OMB Information Collections for the Paperwork Reduction Act Have Gone Paperless

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and their contractor, Communications Training Analysis Corporation (CTAC) of Fairfax have been working with OMB, and their contractor CyberData, to enhance the Information Collection Request, Review and Approval System (ICRAS) to "talk" to ROCIS.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and their contractor, Communications Training Analysis Corporation (CTAC) of Fairfax have been working with OMB, and their contractor CyberData, to enhance the Information Collection Request, Review and Approval System (ICRAS) to "talk" to ROCIS.

With all the current buzz over "software-as-a-service" (SaaS), "service oriented architecture" (SOA), going "green", "business process management" (BPM) and the ever daunting secure infrastructure, it is a wonder that the best kept secret in Washington has stayed a secret.

Many career civil servants and veterans the federal workforces are naive to the depth of the little publicized world of the Paperwork Reduction Act. The PRA mandates that Federal Agencies must obtain approval from OMB before collecting information from the public, including businesses. Information Collection Requests (ICRs) are requests for approval to conduct or sponsor an Information Collection: an Agency requirement, request, or other action, in any format (i.e. written, oral, or electronic) that does any of the following: gathers information from the public; performs recordkeeping; or discloses information to a member of the public or to the public at large; and before now, have been submitted to OMB on paper for review and approval.

From the public perspective, as taxpayers, every day we encounter the results of these efforts -- taxes, Medicare, change of address forms, applications, environmental and health surveys, are just a few of the better known information collections. Yet just beyond the spotlight of Grants, Rules and Agendas, the Desk Officers within every agency quietly toil away, day after day, year after year with little fanfare to sustain compliance.

For years, federal agencies were required to deluge the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) staff with justification and supporting information for each collection request, a process that could take nearly a year to compile, transmit and receive approval on. Until late summer 2006, when OMB released new business process guidelines for information collection request processing; they redeveloped the Regulatory Information Service Center (RISC) and Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Combined Information System "ROCIS" for compliance with the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA), requiring Agencies to submit information collection requests electronically.

As OMB redeveloped ROCIS, to accommodate the recent hard and soft copy re-engineering eliminating the standard 83-I, 83-C and 83-E forms, to allow Agency Clearance Officers the ability to log in and enter and upload the required in Summary Worksheet (screens) as well as the Unified Agenda, E-Rulemaking and other internal requirements; the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and their contractor, Communications Training Analysis Corporation (CTAC) of Fairfax have been working with OMB, and their contractor CyberData to enhance the Information Collection Request, Review and Approval System (ICRAS) to "talk" to ROCIS. ICRAS is HHS' internal processing system, developed as a web-based, enterprise-wide database application, enabling the Agency to electronically prepare, track, report on, and administer procedures for obtaining OMB ICR approvals. This joint development effort has provided HHS the ability to develop ICRAS to transmit ICR data -- compliant with the new business process Summary Worksheets -- via XML/Web Services to ROCIS, providing the Agency Desk and Clearance Officers with an entirely paperless procedure.

A review and Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) sponsored by Treasury through a multi-federal agency task force showed ICRAS outperformed other Federal agency systems and as a consequence, the Federal government website, PaperworkReduction.gov Agency Portal, was launched. Leveraging cross-agency initiatives, the website serves as the central location where Federal agencies, including OMB, access ICRAS to take advantage of the system's easy-to-use interface to produce, review, and track requests from agencies to OMB; and CTAC's use of electronic software delivery (ESD) via the portal produces the maximum results in rapid application implementation and minimal, if any, user downtime.

"The true ingenuity behind ICRAS is that our developers created a core engine that manages workflow, with horizontal and vertical agility for easy adaption between business processes and business requirements. The PRA is the epitome of why this model works - each office within each agency has their own needs for processing the OMB requirements for information collections; but since it is really a workflow management system adapted to the needs of the PRA reporting requirements, the engine can really be adopted to fit other organizational needs, such as FOIA requests, correspondence tracking, application processing, etc." Don Royal, Vice President and ICRAS Program Manager, explains, "what we are most proud of is the not only the collaborative effort the system offers government workforces, but the collaboration between agencies, such as HHS, OMB, EPA, Treasury and others in the federal task force, that has made it a success."

With the support of OMB, HHS has established a [Software as a] Service Provider model for ICRAS, complete with a five year time and materials contract award to CTAC through Acquisition Services Directorate (ASD) via the Department of Interior, National Business Center/Federal Acquisition Center. This is a time and materials contract that any Federal agency may use to pay for ICRAS contractor support. As the ICRAS Service Provider, HHS can provide and host the core database system in a "service oriented architecture" so multiple agencies can prepare and send packages to OMB for approval on their own instances of the system.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is entering their 3rd year as a charter member, and HHS is currently in discussions with other Agencies to implement ICRAS as their internal policy system for preparing and submitting their ICRs; but we suspect that following ICRAS's honors as a 2007 and 2008 Excellence.gov Finalist, 2008 Intergovernmental Solutions Award (ISA) Finalist and as a winner of the 21st Annual GCN Award to be profiled in the October 20th issue of Government Computer News, the secret may be out.

About Communications Training Analysis Corporation (CTAC):
CTAC is a small business that has been providing management, organizational and technology support services, and innovative business process solutions to government and private sector clients since 1987, including - but not limited to: business process policy, planning, analysis and integration; training design, development and delivery; security assessments and implementation; program/project management, human capital and information resource governance; and enterprise operations support solutions for government and industry clients.

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