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Do I need clearance?

Not every request or collection falls under the PRA’s scope, and you may not need clearance at all. Voluntary collections are not automatically exempt.

When figuring out if PRA clearance is needed, consider the following:

  • What type of information are you collecting,
  • Who are you collecting it from,
  • How will you be collecting it, and
  • Why you are collecting this information.

Voluntary collections are not automatically exempt. This is just a starting point to see if your collection needs PRA clearance. We encourage getting in touch with your agency’s PRA contact to answer more in-depth questions.

Who are you collecting information from?

Members of the public

Generally, this means people or groups outside of the federal government. Some groups that are considered members of the public include:

  • Individual people (including federal contractors)
  • Businesses and associations
  • State, territorial, tribal, and local governments
  • Foreign governments, businesses, and individual people

In general, the PRA applies even when information is collected from non-US citizens, residences, or businesses as those entities are considered “persons” under the Act. If you’re only collecting information from federal employees or military personnel as part of their job, then you don’t need PRA clearance. If the information isn’t part of their work-related duties, you may need PRA clearance.

Ten or more people or groups

Over a 12-month period, if you are requesting the same information from ten or more people or entities, you need PRA clearance.

If you’re requesting information from fewer than ten people or groups, but they represent the majority or all of an industry or sector, you may need PRA clearance.

Voluntary or Mandatory Collection

Regardless whether your collection is voluntary (i.e., the public is not required by law to provide information) or mandatory, the Paperwork Reduction Act treats the collection the same.

What type of information are you collecting?

The type of information you’re collecting will help determine if you need PRA clearance.

Needs PRA clearance:

Asking for information to be sent to the government, for example:

  • Forms, such as the IRS 1040.
  • Written reports, such as grantee performance reports.
  • Surveys, such as customer satisfaction or behavioral surveys.
  • Recordkeeping requirements, such as small businesses keeping all tax-related documents for 3 years.
  • Third-party or public disclosures, such as nutrition labeling requirements for food.
  • Program evaluations, such as looking at the outcomes of a subsidized housing initiative for seniors.
  • Research studies and focus groups with a set of the same questions or tasks.
  • Applications for benefits and grant programs.

Doesn’t need PRA clearance:

  • Direct observation, such as watching how long it takes someone to complete a transaction, or how someone uses a new website to find answers.
  • General requests for public input and comments, such as a “Tell Us About Your Experience” sheet with open-ended space for someone to respond.
  • Information for voluntary commercial transactions, like payment and delivery details.
  • Information asked for or received in connection with a public hearing or meeting.

Some information collections are generally not subject to the PRA, including: certain federal investigations and civil actions, antitrust actions, and intelligence activities.

Information at public meetings and online

The discussion and conversation at a public meeting is exempt from PRA clearance, and many online or interactive communications fall under this exemption. Interactive meeting tools like public conferences calls, webinars, discussions board and forums, and chat sessions are considered the electronic equivalent of in-person public meetings and do not need clearance.

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