Could New Jersey’s government go paperless?
A couple of New Jersey legislators introduced a bill this month that would create a task force to study whether going paperless is feasible.
A bill under consideration in the New Jersey Legislature envisions a paperless state government, and would establish a task force to examine how going all-digital could work.
Proponents say that eliminating or reducing the volume of paper used in state agencies would mean less waste, lower costs, and streamlined operations.
“While going paperless is a large feat, it has the potential to save time and money, as well as save the environment," State Sen. James Beach (D., Camden), the chairman of the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, said in a statement. He is cosponsoring the bill along with Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D., Camden).
For decades, governments and private industries increasingly have moved many of their operations online. More and more local governments and schools use electronic banking and bill paying. And most municipalities offer to deposit workers' salaries directly into their bank accounts. The city of Chester in Delaware County saved more than $85,000 in the first year after it stopped printing paychecks in February 2017, city officials said.
Municipalities such as Plumstead Township, Bucks County, have stopped printing copies of meeting packets for their boards of supervisors, opting instead to scan documents and email them to the officials.
Since 2003, the federal Government Paperwork Elimination Act has required federal agencies to allow people and groups to interact with them electronically and to keep records electronically, when practical, for efficiency’s sake. Still, each year, Americans spend 10 billion hours completing federal government forms, according to a study by the Office of Management and Budget.
A 2013 paper published by the American Bar Association praised the benefits of paperless governments, but cautioned officials to consider and address legal implications before following the trend.
“Paperless governments give rise to two major nontraditional security threats: cyber invasions and improper destruction of electronic information,” wrote Patricia Salkin, then-dean of the Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in New York, and Howard Gross, founder and president of eBizDocs, an electronic document management agency in New York.
The New Jersey task force would consider the benefits and risks of a paperless system, the technology the state would need to be able to cut down on paper, potential modifications to state law to accommodate a paperless system, and cybersecurity protections for the state’s executive branch.
During a pilot program the first half of this year, Hawaii reduced the amount of paper it produces. Nine state departments printed about one million fewer sheets of paper, state officials said. They saved paper partly by distributing reports electronically instead of printing copies.
Over three years, as more departments follow suit, Hawaii officials estimate the state will save 10 million sheets of paper and about $500,000.
Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, has made paperless government a goal for his administration. Electronic documents are easier to store and retrieve, he said.
“Transforming from a paper-dependent culture to a digital environment improves public accessibility to government documents and increases transparency for our citizens," he said in a statement.
The 15-member task force the New Jersey bill would create would include the secretary of state, the state treasurer, the director of the New Jersey Division of Taxation, a head of cybersecurity in the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and other members with expertise in such areas as government information technology, revenue collection, and voting.
The group would be required to issue its final recommendations a year after its first meeting, the bill says.