Information provided by the NOAA CLEARANCE OFFICER
1. What is the Paperwork Reduction Act All About?
Your office, as a representative of the Federal Government, cannot ask the general public to provide it with information just because you have decided that you need the information. In response to public complaints about the burden of Federal paperwork, the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) and its implementing regulations require OMB clearance for any planned information collections. This document attempts to explain what types of collections require clearance and the procedures involved in obtaining the clearances. Clearances are needed for voluntary collections as well as for mandatory ones.
2. What Information Collections Need Clearance?
An information collection needs clearance if you do any of the following:
a. Obtain facts or opinions from ten or more persons by the use of standard questions presented in forms, telephone or personal interviews, World-Wide-Web Home Pages, requests for narrative responses to questions, or almost any other means; The “ten or more” rule is irrelevant for any requirement addressed to all or a substantial majority of an industry; e.g. if there are only five main companies in a particular industry, OMB approval is required for collection of information from them .
b. Require members of the public to provide information to the general public or to some third party.
c. Impose any requirements to label or mark items (e.g. boxes of fish, fishing gear, etc.) or vessels (e.g. vessel identification numbers).
d. Require any use of technological methods to monitor public compliance with government requirements, as well as to automated collection techniques. Plans to put transponders on fishing vessels to help track their location, for instance, now need PRA clearance.
OMB is using an extremely broad definition of "information requirement", especially when contained in a regulation, so it is safest to assume that any action collecting information from or regarding members of the public needs PRA clearance unless a determination to the contrary has been made by clearance personnel.
3. What Doesn’t Need PRA Clearance?
An information collection consisting of one open-ended question to the public, e.g. “What do you think about _____?” does not require OMB approval.
Responses to general solicitation of comments from the public, as in a federal register notice or in public hearings.
Registration for a trailning or workshop.
Information Collected by Grantees: IF they, on their own, decide to use an information collection to achieve a broader goal defined in the grant language. However, YOU are the sponsor of an information collection conducted by a grantee if the grant is specifically given to conduct an information collection and/or you must approve any plans for an information collection.
You do not need to obtain a clearance for a collection aimed at Federal employees in that capacity- only if the information is asked as them as private individuals, e.g. members of the “general public.”
Guidance clarifying the treatment of web-based data search tools and calculators under the PRA, released by OMB 9/5/2014
Additional clarification of what does not need PRA clearance, released by OMB 9/5/2014
4. Who are “Persons” Under the PRA?
In the PRA the term “persons” includes more than individual people: corporations, universities, state and local agencies, associations, etc., as well as individuals. Foreign citizens or companies must also be counted as "persons".
5. Who Requests the OMB Clearance?
Clearance is requested by the "sponsor" of the collection. You are regarded as the sponsor if:
The information being gathered is for your use, even if it is gathered by a contractor or another Federal or State agency;
You pay someone, e.g. a contractor, to collect specific information; or
You require that information be submitted or disclosed to anyone else.
6. What About Information Gathered by a State Agency, university or grantee?
The National Marine Fisheries Service often relies upon data collected by a state agency. Numerous cooperative statistics agreements have been established. Such an approach has minimized the public and private costs of data collection by avoiding Federal duplication of existing state activities. The applicability of clearance requirements to these collections depends upon the circumstances of the collection.
OMB policy is that the Federal government imposes a burden (i.e., triggers PRA approval) when it directly causes another entity to impose or request a collection of information to meet a Federal request or requirement. Specific tests are used by OMB to determine whether data collections by a State under a cooperative agreement with NMFS are subject to clearance requirements.
A cooperative agreement does not trigger the PRA if:
a. The State or other entity) already gathers the information in question for its own use, and you are just gaining access to it by making Federal data available to the State;
b. The State is instituting a new collection as a result of an agreement with NOAA to avoid the duplication of data-gathering efforts, but the State acts under its own authority and will use the information obtained for its own purposes, not just provide it to NOAA; OR
c. Any Federal money given to the State is for processing data, or continuing its current collection efforts, and does not constitute payment for conducting specified information collections.
- NOAA is not sponsoring or funding the study;
- NOAA has not caused or influenced the need for this data collection; and
- NOAA is not requiring this data collection.
A cooperative agreement triggers the PRA if:
a. You specifically request the State to institute a data collection for Federal use; or
b. You give money to a State for the express purpose of collecting specific types of fishery data, or retain approval authority for any collection conducted.
For National Marine Fisheries Service information collections, determination of the need for OMB approval of state-collected data should be made early in the Fishery Management Plan process. If requested, the NOAA Clearance Officer will help the sponsoring office to determine, during the draft FMP or amendment phase, if OMB approval is needed.
7. How Do You Make a Clearance Request?
The process for making a request depends upon whether or not a proposed rule is involved.
a. Clearance Requests for New Collections Contained in a Proposed Rule: If a proposed rule contains an information collection or information requirement that needs clearance under the PRA, a clearance request needs to be submitted to OMB on or no more than a few days after the date the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register (it will not be accepted before the publication date). This is vital: publication of your proposed rule will be delayed if you have not anticipated and planned for preparing an associated PRA request. Consult with the NOAA Clearance Officer about whether your actions trigger the PRA or not. Once OMB receives the request it has 60 days to review and act upon it, and except for special emergency submissions they are prohibited from acting for the first 30 days in order to give time for public comment. So the OMB review process takes from 30-60 days, and 60 days (or more if the PRA submission volume is high) is the norm.
The guidance for making a PRA request is available from these Web sites (see PRA overview and 83i and instructions and supporting statement instructions ). See also an explanation of "change requests" below these links on the PRA guidance page. You will be informed by the NOAA PRA Clearance Officer when OMB has approved or disapproved your clearance request, or if OMB has questions that must be answered before approval.
b. Clearance Requests for Collections NOT Contained in a Proposed Rule: The timeline for this process is similar to that for the rule-related PRA request, but the process itself has some different steps. This process applies to new collections, to renewals of existing clearances and to revised collections not directly related to a rule. If you have an approved collection, the NOAA Clearance Officer or your line office PRA Coordinator will let you know when the renewal process needs to begin. You should plan on allowing at least six months from the publication of a federal register notice announcing the planned information collection to the date of approval. The steps are:
! Draft and send to your line office PRA coordinator a Federal Register Notice (FRN) that informs the public of your intent to ask for clearance for a collection and that solicits comments for 60 days. The information needed is described step-by-step at http://www.cio.noaa.gov/services_programs/prafr.html. Your PRA Coordinator or the NOAA PRA Clearance Officer will send you a reminder at least one month before a notice for a renewal should be submitted, or at least seven months before approval for an existing collection will expire.
Note: The FRN Word template may be downloaded from the above site. Please use this current templates, approved by the Office of the Federal Register.
After the PRA Coordinator and the NOAA Clearance Officer make any changes in consultation with you, the Clearance Officer arranges publication of the notice. You should expect publication within two weeks of submitting the notice. For NMFS notices, the PRA Coordinator includes the publication date in the weekly status reports. You may go to the Federal Register website to check if your notice has been published, and to download it to include in the PRA submission: go to PRA status and click on "Access to GPO's Federal Register Site" (updated daily). Go to “Advanced Search”.
- On the second question on the advanced search page, choose “notice”.
- In the keyword search blank, type in: “0648” and “(the rest of the OMB control number assigned to your collection” separated by the word “and”; e.g.: “0648” and “0234”. If this is a new collection, type in a word near the beginning of your collection’s title, instead.
- If an item with “summary” and “pdf” comes up, click on the pdf option.
An alternative way to find your notice is to go to this website: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont08.html,(and replace the "08" with the applicable year) click on a date, scroll down to Dept. of Commerce, then to NOAA, and click on individual notices listed.
You submit the clearance request to your PRA coordinator, cc’ing the NOAA Clearance Officer. The actual submission cannot be made to OMB until the 60 day comment period has ended, and there is no way of reducing the comment period, but you can get your request processed through NOAA and DOC prior to the end of the 60 days.
After receiving the submission OMB lets it sit for 30 days to allow for additional public comment. They are prohibited by law from acting for 30 days, and generally do not act before 60 days have passed.
You will be informed by the NOAA PRA Clearance Officer when OMB has approved or disapproved your clearance request, or if OMB has questions that must be answered before approval. Note: As long as a renewal request is at OMB before the expiration date, the information collection approval period is automatically extended month to month until OMB acts on the renewal submission.
8. What If You Don’t Have Time for the Normal Clearance Process?
The PRA recognizes that the normal clearance process doesn’t fit all situations. There is a provision for an “Emergency Submission”. It removes the need to have any public comment period, and OMB is supposed to act within a time frame requested by the agency. An emergency approval is limited to six months, so for an ongoing collection, a regular clearance process needs to be started immediately after emergency approval is received.
Emergency procedures by-pass one of the prime objectives of the normal PRA clearance process, which to allow the public ample time for comment before the government conducts an information collection. Because of this, emergency requests should be limited to unforeseeable situations and/or situations where the delays in obtaining regular clearance would have adverse affects on the public or on natural resources. The embarrassment of the agency is not a justification; so if you made promises you cannot keep because you failed to plan properly, you should plan on being embarrassed and not request an emergency clearance.The overall process for an emergency request is basically the same as for a regular request, except that:
a. The line office PRA Coordinator must request line office approval for an emergency submission. All emergency requests at NMFS must be approved by the DAA for Regulations.
b. The sponsor develops and forwards to the line office PRA Coordinator: 1) an emergency transmittal memo for line office-level signature and forwarding to DOC and 2) a letter with the same content, addressed from DOC to OMB. The line office PRA Coordinator will provide the proper format for both documents to the sponsor.
c. The line office PRA Coordinator prints the emergency transmittal memo on letterhead and obtains line office-level signature.
d. The memo and letter are forwarded to NOAA with the submission.
e. NOAA faxes the signed memo to DOC; DOC prints the letter on its letterhead and obtains the signature.
f. The letter is forwarded to OMB with the emergency submission.
A FRN is developed by NOAA and published while OMB reviews the PRA submission (i.e., OMB can begin its review of the PRA submission without delay due to the fact that there is no comment period). Rather than a 30-day time period being given, comments are requested to be sent before the date on which approval is requested.
9. How Do You Address the PRA in Rulemakings?
Any rulemaking containing a proposed or approved information collection must address the PRA in the classification section of the preamble. Specific guidance on the wording can be found on this Web site (see guidance on preambles).
10. What Do You Need to Do After Getting PRA Clearance?
The PRA requires that you provide the public with certain information about your clearance request in the form of a “Paperwork Reduction Act statement”, which you have already included on the forms submitted with the clearance request, following the instructions for making a request in Attachment A. If OMB approves the request you must make sure that this information is actually incorporated into your collection – e.g. on all forms, online or printed, or in the instructions for them. Here is the format and required content for the statement, with the information to be filled in by the sponsor indicated in parentheses:
Public reporting burden for this collection of information is estimated to average ___ (minutes/hours) per response, including the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the collection of information. Send comments regarding this burden estimate or any other suggestions for reducing this burden to (name), NOAA (line office), (email address).
(Statement on: 1) confidentiality of the information, citing the statute your guarantee is based on, 2) how anonymity will be maintained or 3) the information collected is public information and not confidential. If data will be included in reports in aggregate form only, always state so. What you say here will reflect your PRA request’s supporting statement, Part A, #10). Notwithstanding any other provisions of the law, no person is required to respond to, nor shall any person be subjected to a penalty for failure to comply with, a collection of information subject to the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, unless that collection of information displays a currently valid OMB Control Number
11. What Do You Need to Do if You Want to Change Your Collection After Obtaining OMB Clearance?
It depends. You can make minor changes to a collection – using a change worksheet - without having to obtain additional OMB approval, but the changes must really be minor. You need OMB approval (through the complete clearance process) if you are significantly adding to the number of respondents involved or if you are adding substantial questions (even if you are dropping other questions so that the overall burden imposed is unchanged). Ask the NOAA Clearance Officer for advice.
12. Who Can Provide Me with Advice and Assistance?
This guidance was prepared by the former NOAA Clearance Officer, Richard Roberts and revised by Mark Graff, the current clearance officer. This position’s role is to help answer any questions that you may have on clearance requirements, to provide you with the guidance needed to prepare and submit a clearance request when that is necessary, to ensure that the submission made meets OMB's standards for approval, and to inform you of OMB action and what final steps may be needed to comply with OMB requirements. The NOAA Clearance Officer can be reached at 301-628-5658 and the email is mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.