Paper Industry Fights to Stop U.S. Government from Total Digital Conversion

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
(AP photo)

The Barack Obama administration has been moving aggressively to shift federal agencies closer to a paperless state by embracing new technology options. But this move has angered the companies that produce paper products, which are now fighting to stymie the administration’s plans.


Under the cover of a group calling itself Consumers for Paper Options, the paper industry has lobbied members of Congress to roll back some changes implemented in recent years.


For instance, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decided three years ago to cease mailing paper earnings statements to 150 million Americans. The move saved the agency $72 million a year.


But the SSA will have to go back to using paper statements after Rep. Susan Davis (D-California), to reverse the 2011 change, added language to the massive federal budget bill adopted in January.


Davis did so at the behest of the Consumers for Paper Options.


The group claims it is looking out for seniors and low-income Americans who haven’t kept up with the digital age.


“The glitzy new thing is to be pro-technology,” John Runyan, Consumers for Paper Options’ executive director, told The Washington Post. “But a lot of government agencies are saying, ‘We’re going electronic and the heck with it.’”


Runyan’s background is in paper, not helping consumers.


He previously served as head of federal government relations for International Paper, the largest pulp and paper company in the world, as well as treasurer of its PAC.


The Envelope Manufacturers Association actually launched Consumers for Paper Options, and the paper industry’s largest trade group, plus some of North America’s biggest paper manufacturers have provided funding for the group.


These interests have not enjoyed the era of switching to digital payments and records, which has resulted in businesses and government offices buying less paper.


But the federal government has saved substantial sums of tax dollars by embracing electronic alternatives to doing business.


The Department of the Treasury did away with most paper mailings, except for those going to the elderly and those with mental health problems, in an effort to save $1 billion over 10 years.


Agencies can slash the costs of paying individuals and vendors by utilizing electronic payments, which require only 9 cents to process, compared with $1.25 for a paper check, according to Treasury figures.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Group Tries to Slow Federal Government’s Move Away from Paper to the Web (by Lisa Rein, Washington Post)

The Paper Industry Is Lobbying Against a Paperless Government — and It Has a Point (by Philip Bump, The Wire)

U.S. Government Wastes $440 Million a Year on Useless Printing (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Paper Industry Uses Loophole to Suck Billions from Taxpayers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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