From time to time we at FGI hear from people who don’t think that federal government information should be free. They talk about how giving information away that the private sector could sell is “unfair competition.”
While we at FGI have talked about how government information is already paid for through citizen taxes, the Government Accountability Office released a report last week that shows that citizens are already charged twice for information — once through their taxes and again by the many hours they are compelled to do government paperwork.
Paperwork Reduction Act: Increase in Estimated Burden Hours Highlights Need for New Approach, GAO-06-974T, July 18, 2006
has this to say about the number of hours Americans spend filling out paperwork:
After 2 years of slight declines, OMB reports that paperwork burden grew in fiscal year 2005 and is expected to increase further in fiscal year 2006. Estimates in OMB’s annual report to Congress show that the total paperwork burden imposed by federal information collections increased last year to about 8.4 billion hours–an increase of 5.5 percent from the previous year’s total of about 8.0 billion hours.
In nearly all cases, not filling out these forms is non-optional and in many cases is used to build government information products. How much does this time contribution translate into dollars? If we make the absurdly conservative assumption that every person filling out a government form is paid the federal minimum wage of $5.15/hr, then 8.4 billion hours works out to $43.6 this year alone.
Nearly forty-four billion dollars a year in confiscated time to generate the raw data to build federal information products. If Congress appropriated a tenth of that amount just one year, I bet it would be enough to endow the Government Printing Office (GPO) with enough funds that they could scrap their sales program and provide free information to every citizen for the next century. With that much money, we could probably endow the sales only National Technical Information Service so it could become a free information dissemination service too.
So to subject Americans to buying government information projects isn’t just double billing, it’s really triple billing! We say no!
Just to clarify, the GAO report did not directly address the dissemination of government information, but does clearly show the citizen’s burden in providing raw data to the government.
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