The Obama administration has taken a baby step forward in its effort to simplify communication with the US government by clarifying how the Paperwork Reduction Act applies when new media like tweets, blogs and wikis are used in communication between federal agencies and the public.
The PRA was enacted in 1995, just before American life made a wholesale migration to the Internet. It requires that federal officials file an 83-I form with the Office of Management and Budget whenever they collect information from the public, to justify the effort.
That process routinely took months, but a new document appearing on the White House Web site lists a number of instances in which information collected using social media need not trigger the PRA process.
— Federal wiki pages can support communication between federal agencies and the public without violating any law.
— Webinars, blogs, discussion boards, forums, message boards, chat sessions, social networks and online communities can all go forward without triggering a PRA review.
On the other hand, “If an agency takes the opportunity of a public meeting to distribute a survey, or to ask identical questions of 10 or more attendees, the questions count as information collection,” that should trigger the PRA process, according to the document.
At the same time this document was released, several federal agencies released plans to expose more data and other federal information to the public.
For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it will post new information about homelessness. In addition, the Energy Department said it created a wiki to share information about clean energy, and HHS plans to post additional data about community health services.