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Blogs

The paperless evolution

By Marc Gott, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
March 10, 2014

Do you ever feel like you are drowning in a sea of paper? The paperless office is no longer a myth, its reality. The “Paperless Evolution” is now, and it’s happening at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The goal of this paperless evolution is to improve effectiveness and efficiency while driving down costs for ourselves and our business partners. We are looking into several ways to do this and this effort is one of our first steps.

Traditional offices (like NIFA) had paper-based filing systems — filing cabinets, entire file rooms, etc. — that required maintenance, equipment, considerable space, and were generally resource-intensive. In contrast, paperless offices may simply contain a desk, chair, and computer, with all of the information stored in digital form.  NIFA’s customers — primarily those seeking grants for agricultural research, education, and extension projects — already witnessed the beginning of this evolution when NIFA joined other federal agencies by managing the grant application process electronically through Grants.gov.

Actively engaging in digital/electronic document conversion, storage, and retrieval will help us share and access information, save time, increase efficiency, and provide customer service that exceeds standards.

In more behind-the-scenes action, NIFA has made changes to the way it handles post award grants management.  Our Awards Management Division’s paperless approach is cutting hours, if not days, from the time it previously took to complete each of its more than 5,000 annual post-award actions. This process not only cuts down on paperwork, it allows records to be sent electronically rather than through the mail. Taking all elements together, NIFA’s new processes are saving taxpayers more than $100,000 per year in cost reductions.

In FY 2014, NIFA will begin to convert documents and other papers into digital/electronic form to greatly reduce — or even eliminate—the use of paper. This commitment will save money, boost productivity, save space, make documentation and information sharing easier, keep personal information more secure, and help the environment though paper elimination. It will also make for a more effective telework environment since it eliminates the need to access paper files.

That’s not all. The agency’s paperless evolution will really take hold in the coming years as the agency selects and begins to implement a new grants management process, in which NIFA staff and grantees will electronically submit and process all annual reports and other required information.

Get ready world, The Paperless Evolution is here!