Opening Statement of Sen. Spencer Abraham.
Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on Digital Signatures Bill.

Date: July 15, 1998.
Source: This document was created by transcribing from an audio tape of the hearing.

We welcome you to the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which Sen. Wyden and I have been working on, along with a number of other colleagues on the Senate side.  We appreciate the chance to work House members, including one who will testify here in just a moment.  I am going to make a brief opening statement, and then we turn to Sen. Wyden, and then we will go to the first panel - Congresswoman Eshoo at that time.

Of course, everybody here is aware, growth of the Internet and its related technologies over the last ten years have been phenomenal.  These advances have put great pressure on both the public and the private sector to keep pace.  Clearly the private sector is rising to the challenge.  According to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, today's booming economy is due in large part to the information technology industry.  In fact, some estimates attribute as much as 40% of new economic growth to the information technology industry alone.  Unfortunately, not all areas of the high tech sector continue to expand as rapidly as we might have hoped.  For example, digital signature technology, which would provide increased security for electronic transactions, digital signatures expected impact on electronic commerce is tremendous.  Unfortunately, the development of this technology has been severely impeded by a failure within the public sector to accomodate advances in information technology.

Development of digital signatures has been relatively modest to date in large part because the federal government has failed to adopt the technology itself.   In my view it is imperative that we remedy this situation.  Government is an integral part of the business world.  Whether filing for environment permits, certifying OSHA compliance, submitting workforce information, or for deducting federal taxes from employee wages.  Companies conducting business in American must develop and maintain a working relationship with the federal government.  Thus, as digital signatures become become fully accepted in the digital marketplace they must be used and accepted by the federal government.

The Government Paperwork Elimination Act would require the federal agencies to make versions of their forms available online and allow people to submit these forms with digital signatures as a standard.  It also sets up a process by which commercial developed digital signatures can be used in in submitting forms to the government, and permits the digital storage of federal documents.  By providing individuals the option of electronic filing and storage our bill would reduce the paperwork burden imposed by government on American people and the American economy.  It will allow people to move from printed forms they must fill out using typewriters or handwriting.

The digitally based form can be filled out using a word processor.  Saving in time, storage, and postage will be enormous.  And I believe the results for the overall economy will be equally dramatic.  The easier and more convenient for American businesses to comply with paperwork and reporting requirements, the better job they will do in meeting these requirements, and the better job they will do in creating jobs and wealth for our country.  This legislation will help businesses, and small businesses in particlular, as they struggle to satisfy Washington bureaucrats, while retaining sufficient resources to satisfy their customers and meet their payrolls.

But the most important benefit provided by the legislation lies in the area of electronic innovation.   Currently, digital encryption is a relatively undeveloped specialty.  One reason for that is a lack of opportunity for individuals and companies to make use of the technology.  Another is the lack of set industry standards.  By allowing use of this technology in the filing out of government paperwork and by establishing a standard for digital encryption the federal government can open the gates for quick, efficient development of this technology, as well as increase applications throughout the economy.  

I will submit the rest of my statement for the record today.  But we very much appreciate everyone's attendance.  We look forward to hearing from the witnesses.   And, I think, hopefully, with a little bit of help from some of our other colleagues on this Committee, we can move this legislation forward.  I will turn to Sen. Wyden, we much appreciate his work.