Report text available as:

  • TXT
  • PDF   (PDF provides a complete and accurate display of this text.) Tip ?
                                                                       
106th Congress                                                   Report
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 2d Session                                                     106-565

======================================================================



 
                         FREEDOM TO E-FILE ACT
                                _______
                                

 April 10, 2000.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the 
              State of the Union and ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

Mr. Combest, from the Committee on Agriculture, submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                        [To accompany H.R. 852]

      [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]

  The Committee on Agriculture, to whom was referred the bill 
(H.R. 852) to require the Department of Agriculture to 
establish an electronic filing and retrieval system to enable 
the public to file all required paperwork electronically with 
the Department and to have access to public information on farm 
programs, quarterly trade, economic, and production reports, 
and other similar information, having considered the same, 
report favorably thereon with amendment and recommend that the 
bill as amended do pass.
  The amendments are as follows:
  Strike out all after the enacting clause and insert in lieu 
thereof the following:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

  This Act may be cited as the ``Freedom to E-File Act''.

SEC. 2. ELECTRONIC FILING AND RETRIEVAL.

  (a) Establishment of Internet-Based System.--The Secretary of 
Agriculture shall establish an electronic filing and retrieval system 
that uses the telecommunications medium known as the Internet to enable 
farmers and other persons--
          (1) to file electronically all paperwork required by the 
        agencies of the Department of Agriculture specified in 
        subsection (b); and
          (2) to have access electronically to information, readily 
        available to the public in published form, regarding farm 
        programs, quarterly trade, economic, and production reports, 
        price and supply information, and other similar information 
        related to production agriculture.
  (b) Covered Agencies.--Subsection (a) shall apply to the following 
agencies of the Department of Agriculture:
          (1) The Farm Service Agency.
          (2) The Risk Management Agency.
          (3) The Natural Resources Conservation Service.
          (4) The rural development components of the Department 
        included in the Secretary's service center initiative regarding 
        State and field office collocation implemented pursuant to 
        section 215 of the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act 
        of 1994 (7 U.S.C. 6915).
  (c) Time-Table for Implementation.--Not later than 180 days after the 
date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall--
          (1) to the maximum extent practicable, complete the 
        establishment of the electronic filing and retrieval system 
        required by subsection (a) to the extent necessary to permit 
        the electronic information access required by paragraph (2) of 
        such subsection;
          (2) initiate implementation of the electronic filing required 
        by paragraph (1) of such subsection by allowing farmers and 
        other persons to download forms from the Internet and submit 
        completed forms via facsimile, mail, or related means; and
          (3) modify forms used by the agencies specified in subsection 
        (b) into a more user-friendly format, with self-help guidance 
        materials.
  (d) Interoperability.--In carrying out this section, the Secretary 
shall ensure that the agencies specified in subsection (b)--
          (1) use computer hardware and software that is compatible 
        among the agencies and will operate in a common computing 
        environment; and
          (2) develop common Internet user-interface locations and 
        applications to consolidate the agencies' news, information, 
        and program materials.
  (e) Completion of Implementation.--Not later than two years after the 
date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall complete the 
establishment of the electronic filing and retrieval system required by 
subsection (a) to permit the electronic filing required by paragraph 
(1) of such subsection.
  (f) Progress Report.--Not later than 180 days after the date of the 
enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to Congress a report 
describing the progress made toward establishing the electronic filing 
and retrieval system required by subsection (a).

SEC. 3. AVAILABILITY OF AGENCY INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FUNDS.

  (a) Reservation of Funds.--From funds made available for each agency 
of the Department of Agriculture specified in section 2(b) for 
information technology or information resource management, the 
Secretary of Agriculture shall reserve an amount equal to not more than 
the following:
          (1) For fiscal year 2001, $3,000,000.
          (2) For each subsequent fiscal year, $2,000,000.
  (b) Time for Reservation.--The Secretary shall notify Congress of the 
amount to be reserved under subsection (a) for a fiscal year not later 
than December 1 of that fiscal year.
  (c) Use of Funds.--Funds reserved under subsection (a) shall be used 
to establish the electronic filing and retrieval system required by 
section 2(a). Once the system is established and operational, reserved 
amounts shall be used for maintenance and improvement of the system.
  (d) Return of Funds.--Funds reserved under subsection (a) and 
unobligated at the end of the fiscal year shall be returned to the 
agency from which the funds were reserved, and such funds shall remain 
available until expended.

  Amend the title so as to read:

    A bill to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish 
an electronic filing and retrieval system to enable farmers and 
other persons to file paperwork electronically with selected 
agencies of the Department of Agriculture and to access public 
information regarding the programs administered by these 
agencies.

                           BRIEF EXPLANATION

    H.R. 852 requires the Secretary of the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture to establish an internet-based system to allow 
farmers, ranchers, and other persons to complete and submit 
program applications electronically, and to have electronic 
access to all relevant economic and program information and 
data.

                            PURPOSE AND NEED

    The Freedom to E-File Act requires the United States 
Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish an electronic 
filing and retrieval system to enable the public to file with 
USDA all required paperwork electronically. In doing so, the 
Act would allow producers, farmers and rural America to have 
access to information on farm programs, quarterly trade, 
economic and production reports and other similar information.
    The purpose of the bill is to allow farmers to do business 
with USDA over the Internet. The rapidly evolving e-commerce 
economy of the 21st Century continues to assert itself as the 
future of worldwide commerce. Like any business today, farmers 
are using computers and the Internet for a variety of purposes, 
including financial management systems and market information. 
It is becoming increasingly important to ensure that all 
segments of our economy are technologically efficient.
    Currently, USDA operates several separate, and in some 
cases antiquated, computer systems. The continued use of such 
ad hoc, uncoordinated systems threatens to disable producers 
and farmers from access to a maturing information technology 
market. Rural Americans face the very real potential of being 
left behind in this era of sweeping technological advances. It 
is vital to empower producers and farmers by providing them 
with the technological tools to do business via the Internet 
with USDA. The continued absence of a viable common computing 
environment at the Department will result in its failure to 
assist the very constituency it is obliged to serve.
    The Committee believes that the Freedom to E-File Act 
achieves the most important objective of allowing the public 
the access and freedom to do effective, better business with 
USDA via the Internet. The globally integrated e-commerce 
economy demands that private and public entities move quickly 
to establish efficient avenues of commerce. It is the 
Committee's belief that this legislation forces USDA in the 
right direction; the direction of enabling producers, farmers 
and rural Americans to benefit in an age of technological 
revolution.

                           section-by-section

Section 1. Short title

    This Act may be cited as the ``Freedom to E-File Act''.

Section 2. Electronic filing and retrieval

    Subsection (a) requires the Department of Agriculture to 
establish an electronic filing and retrieval system to enable 
farmers to electronically file all required paperwork with 
USDA. It allows the public to access farm program information, 
quarterly trade reports, economic and production reports and 
similar information.
    Subsection (b) identifies the Farm Service Agency (FSA), 
the Risk Management Agency (RMA), the Natural Resources 
Conservation Service (NRCS), and any Rural Development agencies 
included in the Secretary's service center initiative regarding 
State and field office collocation as those affected agencies 
under the bill. These field agencies are in a position to best 
administer the benefits produced by this legislation. The 
Committee notes that the Secretary may include, and would 
encourage the Secretary to include, other agencies as 
appropriate.
    Subsection (c) establishes a 180-day initial timetable for 
implementation. The Secretary is required to complete the 
establishment and initial implementation of the electronic 
filing and retrieval system, allowing farmers to download forms 
from the Internet and submit completed and modified forms used 
by the agencies specified in subsection (b) into a more user-
friendly format, with self-help guidance materials.
    Subsection (d) refers to the common computing environment 
initiative within USDA. To that end, Subsection (d) requires 
the Secretary to ensure that the agencies affected by the bill 
use computer hardware and software that is compatible among the 
agencies and will operate in a common computing environment. 
Furthermore, subsection (d) stipulates that USDA develop common 
Internet applications to consolidate the agencies' news, 
information, and program materials.
    Subsection (e) requires that farmers be able to 
electronically file all paperwork required by the agencies 
within two years from the date of enactment of this Act.
    Subsection (f) asks the Secretary to submit a progress 
report to Congress, no later than 180 days after the date of 
enactment, detailing the progress made toward establishing the 
electronic filing and retrieval system required by the Act.

Section 3. Availability of agency information technology funds

    Section 3 authorizes the Secretary to redirect certain 
amounts of discretionary funds made available to the Secretary 
from the agencies in order to carry out this act. The amounts 
are $3,000,000 for FY 2001 and $2,000,000 for each subsequent 
fiscal year.
    Additionally, section 3 requires the Secretary to notify 
Congress of the amount to be reserved no later than December 1 
of that fiscal year and that any reserved funds shall be used 
to establish the electronic filing and retrieval system. Once 
the system is established and operational, reserved amounts 
shall be used for maintenance and improvements to the system. 
This section also requires the Secretary to return any 
unobligated funds back to the agency from which the funds were 
reserved and such funds shall remain available until expended.

                        COMMITTEE CONSIDERATION

I--Hearings

    On Thursday, June 17, 1999, the Subcommittee on Department 
Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry held a public 
hearing to review H.R. 852, The Freedom to E-File Act. 
Testimony was taken from the administration, mortgage lending 
company executives, and various trade association 
representatives. The purpose of the hearing was to review 
proposed legislation to establish an electronic filing and 
retrieval system to enable the public to file with USDA all 
required paperwork electronically. The predominate issue 
discussed was how the legislation would allow producers, 
farmers and rural America the access and freedom necessary to 
do more efficient, better business with USDA. The Subcommittee 
also examined the potential financial costs to USDA, as it 
related to the proposed implementation process described in the 
legislation.

II--Subcommittee

    The Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, 
Nutrition, and Forestry met on March 23, 2000, to consider H.R. 
852, the Freedom to E-File Act.
    Chairman Goodlatte called the meeting to order and made 
opening remarks as did Ranking Minority Member Clayton and Mr. 
LaHood, the sponsor of the bill.
    Without objection, Chairman Goodlatte offered an Amendment 
in the Nature of a Substitute to H.R. 852, which was considered 
as original text and open for amendments at any point.
    Mr. LaHood offered an explanation of the legislation and 
emphasized that H.R. 852 would increase not only the efficiency 
of the farmers, but also increase the efficiency of the 
Department of Agriculture. Additionally, Mr. LaHood noted that 
similar legislation had already passed the Senate, S. 777, 
sponsored by Senator Fitzgerald of Illinois.
    Mr. Walden spoke in favor, indicating that the legislation 
was of great benefit to American's farmers and ranchers. He 
also commended his colleague, Mr. LaHood, for crafting the 
bill.
    No additional amendments were offered, Mr. Goodlatte moved 
that the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute be adopted. By 
a voice vote, the motion was approved.
    Mrs. Clayton moved that H.R. 852, as amended, be adopted 
and reported favorably to the Full Committee. By voice vote, 
the motion was approved.
    Without objection, staff was given permission to make any 
necessary clerical, technical, or conforming changes to reflect 
the intent of the Subcommittee and the meeting was then 
adjourned.

III--Full committee

    The Committee on Agriculture met, pursuant to notice, with 
a quorum present, on March 29, 2000, to consider H.R. 852, as 
approved by the Subcommittee on Department Operations, 
Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry.
    Chairman Combest recognized Members for remarks and Ranking 
Minority Member Stenholm offered strong support for the bill, 
indicating that the legislation would provide greater 
electronic access to USDA programs and services.
    Mr. LaHood also offered a strong endorsement for the 
legislation and emphasized that H.R. 852 would technologically 
move agriculture into the 21st century, increasing not only the 
efficiency of the farmer, but also the efficiency of the 
Department of Agriculture. Additionally, Mr. LaHood, noted that 
similar legislation had passed the Senate S. 777, sponsored by 
Senator Fitzgerald of Illinois. Finally Mr. LaHood recognized 
and thanked Chairman Combest, Ranking Minority Member Stenholm, 
Subcommittee Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Minority Member 
Clayton for their support.
    Committee Counsel was then recognized to give a brief 
explanation of the bill and Members were given an opportunity 
to ask questions.
    No additional amendments were offered. Mr. Combest then 
moved that the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute as 
approved by the Subcommittee be adopted. By a voice vote, the 
motion was approved.
    The Chairman then moved that H.R. 852, as amended, be 
adopted and ordered reported favorably to the House. By a voice 
vote, the motion was approved.
    Without objection, staff was given permission to make any 
necessary clerical, technical, or conforming changes to reflect 
the intent of the Subcommittee and the meeting was adjourned 
subject to the call of the chair.

                   REPORTING THE BILL--ROLLCALL VOTES

    In compliance with clause 3(b) of rule XIII of the Rules of 
the House of Representatives, H.R. 852, as amended, was 
reported by voice vote with a majority quorum present. There 
was no request for a recorded vote.

           BUDGET ACT COMPLIANCE (SECTIONS 308, 402, AND 423)

    The provisions of clause 3(c)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives and section 308(a)(1) of the 
Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (relating to estimates of new 
budget authority, new spending authority, new credit authority, 
or increased or decreased revenues or tax expenditures) are not 
considered applicable. The estimate and comparison required to 
be prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office 
under clause 3(c)(3) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives and sections 402 and 423 of the Congressional 
Budget Act of 1974 submitted to the Committee prior to the 
filing of this report are as follows:

                                     U.S. Congress,
                               Congressional Budget Office,
                                     Washington, DC, April 7, 2000.
Hon. Larry Combest,
Chairman, Committee on Agriculture,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
    Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has 
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 852, the Freedom 
to E-File Act.
    If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be 
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Jim Langley.
            Sincerely,
                                        Steven M. Lieberman
                                    (For Dan L. Crippen, Director).
    Enclosure.

               Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate

H.R. 852--Freedom to E-File Act

    Summary: H.R. 852 would require the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture (USDA) to establish an electronic filing and 
retrieval system to enable the public to file paperwork 
electronically with selected agencies and to access public 
information regarding the programs administered by these 
agencies. The bill would authorize annual appropriations to 
operate the system.
    CBO estimates that implementation of H.R. 852 would cost 
about $11 million over the 2001-2005 period, assuming 
appropriation of the necessary amounts. The bill would not 
affect direct spending or receipts, therefore pay-as-you-go 
procedures would not apply. H.R. 852 contains no 
intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the 
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) and would impose no costs 
on state, local, or tribal governments.
    Estimated cost to the Federal Government: The estimated 
budgetary impact of H.R. 852 is shown in the following table. 
The costs of this legislation fall within budget function 350 
(agriculture).

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     By fiscal year, in millions of dollars--
                                                                 -----------------------------------------------
                                                                   2000    2001    2002    2003    2004    2005
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                        SPENDING SUBJECT TO APPROPRIATION

Spending under current law \1\
    Budget authority/estimated authorization level..............      10      10      11      11      11      12
    Estimated outlays...........................................      43      10      11      11      11      12
Proposed changes:
    Authorization level.........................................       0       3       2       2       2       2
    Estimated outlays...........................................       0       3       2       2       2       2
Spending under H.R. 852:
    Estimated authorization level \1\...........................      10      13      13      13      13      14
    Estimated outlays...........................................      43      13      13      13      13      14
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The 2000 level is the amount appropriated for USDA's Chief Information Officer that year. Estimated spending
  in 2000 includes amounts from the $59 million appropriated for this activity in 1999. The 2001-2005 amounts
  assume continuation of this level of spending adjusted for anticipated inflation.

    Basis of estimate: Not later than two years after the date 
of enactment, USDA would be required to complete the 
establishment of a computer system that producers can use to 
electronically file all paper work required by selected 
agencies of USDA. The bill authorizes the appropriation of $3 
million in fiscal year 2001 for this purpose, and $2 million in 
each subsequent year.
    Pay-as-you-go considerations: None.
    Intergovernmental and private-sector impact: H.R. 852 
contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as 
defined in UMRA and would have no significant impact on the 
budgets of state, local, or tribal governments.
    Estimate prepared by: Federal costs: Jim Landley; impact on 
State, local and tribal governments: Marjorie Miller; impact on 
private sector: Patrice Gordon.
    Estimate approved by: Peter H. Fontaine, Deputy Assistant 
Director for Budget Analysis.

                        committee cost estimate

    Pursuant to clause 3(d)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the Committee report incorporates the 
cost estimate prepared by the Director of the Congressional 
Budget Office pursuant to sections 402 and 423 of the 
Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

                   constitutional authority statement

    Pursuant to clause 3(d)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the Committee finds the 
Constitutional authority for this legislation in Article I, 
clause 8, section 18, that grants Congress the power to make 
all laws necessary and proper for carrying out the powers 
vested by Congress in the Constitution of the United States or 
in any department or officer thereof.

                          oversight statement

    No summary of oversight findings and recommendations made 
by the Committee on Government Reform, as provided for in 
clause 3(c)(4) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives, was available to the Committee with reference 
to the subject matter specifically addressed by H.R. 852, as 
amended.

                      committee oversight findings

    Pursuant to clause 3(c)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the Committee on Agriculture's 
oversight findings and recommendations are reflected in the 
body of this report.

                      advisory committee statement

    No advisory committee within the meaning of section 5(b) of 
the Federal Advisory Committee Act was created by this 
legislation.

                applicability to the legislative branch

    The Committee finds that the legislation does not relate to 
the terms and conditions of employment or access to public 
services or accommodations within the meaning of section 
102(b)(3) of the Congressional Accountability Act (Public Law 
104-1).

                       federal mandates statement

    The Committee adopted as its own the estimate of Federal 
mandates prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget 
Office pursuant to section 423 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform 
Act (Public Law 104-4).