Cass R. Sunstein, a former head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and the author, most recently, of "Simpler: The Future of Government.", has made this claim (The New York Times):

It is measured not in the millions of hours, but in the billions - 9.14 of them, to be exact. Suppose that we value one hour at $20 (a conservative estimate). If so, the government imposes an annual reporting cost of more than $180 billion on the American people.

Is it true that 9.14 billion hours are spent by Americans on government paperwork every year?

  • 1
    I'd be more skeptical of the claim that $20/hour is a conservative estimate...
    – JasonR
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 17:17
  • @Bright, I cannot understand whether you are saying that $20/hour is over or underestimated. FWIW, in Europe, or at least in Italy, France and Spain, that value is almost twice. Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 21:14
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    It seems kind of high. If you assume that most of the 9B hours were spent by the 135M people that submit tax returns, that's around 67 hours per person. I figure I spent about 12 hours on taxes this year (electronically self-prepared), including all record keeping throughout the year (which mainly consists of putting receipts into a tax envelope for later review), and my tax situation is not simple, being a homeowner with a separate rental property and some self-imployment income. Even if the average person spends 3 times more time, that's only 36 hours/person.
    – Johnny
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 0:38
  • @Johnny: you're wrongly assuming it's only about individuals. I suspect that most of these hours are put in by accountants and tax lawyers working for corporations, especially in retail.
    – vartec
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 14:29
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    @Carlo_R. minimum wage in the US is $7.25/hour. Sadly, that is a reality for many, many people.
    – JasonR
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 18:09

1 Answer 1


The Office of Information and Budget has presented that number as their estimate for 2011. See their report: Information Collection Budget for FY 2011 (page 2, and throughout).

According to agency estimates of paperwork burden in FY 2011, the public spent 9.14 billion hours responding to or complying with Federal information collections.

  • wouldn't surprise me at all. Just the yearly income tax return that about 100 million Americans have to fill out costs them about several hours each on average, for hundreds of millions of hours. The 9 billion hours may well be just for taxes, not all the other regulatory forms, subsidy applications, and other paperwork the gov requires of people (and then there's state and local paperwork on top of that).
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 6:24
  • @jwenting Good point. For more details, the report says, "Paperwork burdens vary greatly across agencies. Treasury by itself accounted for 6.7 billion hours of burden in FY 2011, or 74 percent of the government-wide total. Most of Treasury’s burden hours are the result of the implementation of tax-related statutes. The next six agencies with the most burden hours were: the Department of Health and Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor."
    – user5582
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 6:27
  • And if we take the usual accuracy that people have in estimating levels of effort on ANY project and activity, we should apply the "multiply by 3" rule of thumb to that number </software_project_management>
    – user5341
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 20:50

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