Government Agencies Interest in Digitizing Paper Records Grows

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Paper records account for more than half of the records kept by 52% of government agencies that responded to a recent survey.

State and local government employees’ transition to remote work during the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for access to digital rather than paper records, according to a new survey of government leaders.

Many government offices still rely on paper records, making it difficult for employees to work from home. A survey of 82 state and local government leaders found that in 52% of government agencies, paper documents account for at least half of initial records kept on file.

Agencies that rely on paper records the most include general administration services, human resources, permitting, taxation, licensing and the courts, according to the survey released Monday by Foxit Software, a company that provides PDF products and services, and the Center for Digital Government.

“Government is pretty paper intensive” compared to other industries, said DeeDee Kato, vice president of corporate marketing for Foxit.

But during the pandemic, Kato said there has been a “growing need” for government agencies to eliminate the reliance on paper. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said eliminating paper was a moderate to very urgent need, according to the survey which was conducted in September.

Some state and local government agencies have undertaken initiatives during the pandemic to encourage digital record keeping and filing.

The Missouri Department of Revenue announced recently that it will stop printing paper income tax forms for residents in a move designed to encourage more people to file their taxes electronically. The change is expected to reduce agency spending on paper and postage and will also likely shorten the length of time it takes to process tax refunds.

Washington, D.C.’s Department of Human Services released an online portal and mobile app over the summer that allows food stamp recipients to submit applications, paperwork and documentation remotely.

Unemployment benefit experts have also recommended that state agencies implement more digital tools to help keep up with the significant increase in unemployment claims filed during the pandemic.  

Transitioning from paper to digital records can not only improve efficiency, but also transparency, Kato said. For instance, reliance on digital records can make it easier to compile data and answer public records requests, she said.  

But the expense of making the switch and training issues have prevented some local government agencies from migrating to digital documents, according to the survey. Fifty-two percent of respondents said high costs prevented them from using a PDF editing system, and 42% cited training issues.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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