Building the PRA Guide meant extra paperwork, but 18F says it was worth it

Signs inside the 18F headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Tajha Chappellet-Lanier / FedScoop)

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As of last week, complying with the Paperwork Reduction Act got a little bit easier.

That’s because the DigitalGov and 18F teams at the General Services Administration, together with the White House, launched the PRA Guide, a plain-language site with answers some of the most commonly asked questions about the 1980 law. Guidance existed previously, of course, but it was disparate and often difficult to understand.

The site required GSA’s teams to work closely with the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), says Elizabeth Ayer, innovation specialist at 18F, told FedScoop in an interview.

“Probably the biggest challenge was just collaboration across agencies,” Ayer says.

It went like this: A team of five at 18F would write something, then send it over to OIRA to make sure the simplified description still got at the heart of the law. A six-person OIRA team would then make tweaks and send it back, continuing the cycle. Eventually, OIRA’s general counsel got involved too.

“It was tricky for us to clarify the responsibilities, especially kind of on-going about how OIRA and Digital.gov would continue to manage this site so it had a future,” Ayer said.

Conversely, some of the things 18F “expected” to struggle with during the process didn’t end up being an issue. OIRA didn’t push back against plain language, for example — instead encouraging 18F to go further. The office was a “fantastic” partner, Ayer said. “It was very exiting to work with them.”

The creation of the PRA Guide was funded by 10x, a GSA fund that supports “high-impact ideas” from civil servants. The idea originally came out of OIRA — the office wanted to address some of the “common misunderstandings” and general confusion around PRA. It was a little bit of a different kind of project for 10x, Ayer told FedScoop, as the fund generally supports projects that promise direct impact on the public. The website was the product of phase three 10x funding, where teams get up to $650,000 to develop a functional minimum viable product.

Moving forward, OIRA and DigitalGov are accepting constructive feedback from users of the site and exploring what could be added next, Jeremy Zilar, director of Digital.gov, told FedScoop.

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10x, 18F, DigitalGov, General Services Administration (GSA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OIRA, Paperwork Reduction Act, PRA Guide, White House
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