The long-term march to digital government services has been hurried along in many ways by the coronavirus pandemic – think telework and minimal-to-no access to printers for many Federal employees.

But a new study from MeriTalk and DocuSign reveals one of the most telling statistics yet for the evolution of a paperless government: the Federal government’s use of paper has dropped by half during the public health crisis. And Federal IT managers surveyed for the study only see that trend growing through further implementation of digital services.

The new report – “Serve People, Not Paper: Digitizing the Federal Government” – asked 150 Fed IT managers about Federal digitization progress and obstacles since the pandemic locked down offices in March 2020. The results show solid headway in the effort to go paperless, along with a lot of ground to be covered still.

At the top line, 81 percent of managers said that paper-intensive processes continue to hold their agencies back, and that when the pandemic began less than half of an average agency’s forms were digitally fillable, searchable, or signable.

But with necessity pushing the pace of innovation, agencies have spent the pandemic working on digitization goals including e-signature process automation. The result: 9 out of 10 (93 percent) of the Fed IT managers agree that digitization has cut the time from “needing something” to “having something.”

Generating more of those kinds of concrete benefits is leading Federal IT managers to keep pressing on digitization this year. Among them are saving money, shortening process times, better enabling remote work, and improving operational efficiencies, the survey found.

What’s most needed going forward, the IT managers said, is more training and dedication for the IT workforce, and to create a stronger culture of digitization.

“Hard copies have dominated traditional procurement, management, and financial processes – but the past year has shown government leaders that a reliance on paper may be holding their agency back,” commented Barton Phillips, VP Public Sector, at DocuSign. He said the company is “proud to champion a move to a more productive – and sustainable – future for workforce transformation. Agencies have already seen a reduction in paper over the past year – and cost reduction, speed, and better security have followed.”

So score one for the trees – and digital tech. You can find the full study findings here.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.