Improving Online Public Participation in Agency Rulemaking

Every member of the public is touched by federal rules and regulations that have a real impact on such things as the drinking water quality; food inspection; and automobile safety. Since 2003 Regulations.gov has been the primary resource for citizens to access, view and comment on the regulations that affect their lives.
Regulations.gov is managed by the eRulemaking Progam – an interagency program comprised of more than 30 federal departments and agencies and led by the Environmental Protection Agency. The mission of the eRulemaking Program is to increase public access to, participation in, and understanding of federal rulemaking and improve agencies’ efficiency and effectiveness in developing rules.
As a next step in improving public access and participation in the rulemaking process, we launched the Regulations.gov Exchange on May 21, 2009. With the Exchange, we presented proposed features and functions for the Regulations.gov web site and solicited public opinions and suggestions on possible improvements. We’ve received many insightful ideas. In general, our users like:
  • RSS feeds by topic, agency, docket and search results
  • Interactive educational tools on the regulatory process
  • Personalization of Regulations.gov, including custom settings in a user profile to save searches, manage notifications and pre-populate comment forms
  • Newly proposed Regulations.gov redesign features and functions.
The Regulations.gov Exchange is open until July 21, 2009 and we encourage users to support our efforts to improve Regulations.gov by joining the dialogue at http://www.regulations.gov/exchange.
With this blog post, we are expanding the discussion on how to improve online public participation in agency rulemaking. In the spirit of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, we are looking for better ways to engage members of the public, provide them with the information they need and improve the ways we meet our goals.
We are interested in hearing your thoughts on:
  1. Regulatory Education – What is the best way to educate the public about the regulatory process, including the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ (OIRA) role in rulemakings? What features can we implement on Regulations.gov to help educate the public (e.g., interactive timelines and information maps relating legislation to proposed rulemakings and other documents)?
  2. Public Involvement – How do we increase public involvement in the rulemaking process and other notice and comment processes (e.g., environmental impact statements)? Would the use of common web tools increase participation (e.g., user ratings, affiliating oneself with common interests, sharelinks and social bookmarking)?
  3. Understanding the Substance of Proposed Action – In addition to what is presented in Regulations.gov (Federal Register documents; supporting scientific, technical, legal and economic analyses; and public comments), would multimedia presentations aid public understanding of a proposed action? Would a simple, plain-language abstract describing rulemakings and other actions assist public understanding? What else would aid public understanding of the substance of a proposed rulemaking or other action?
  4. Institutional Change – Many comments received during the Open Government Brainstorm called for changes among departmental and agency rulemaking processes and lifecycles. For example, many users commented on the difficulty to search and compare data across agencies. What would you recommend to remedy the situation where agencies follow their own guidelines and terms to characterize rulemakings? How could the federal government facilitate and manage such an effort? Are there successful cases studies that the have tackled such policy-driven changes in large institutions or government bodies?
  5. Increasing Public Access – A number of agencies post documents on Regulations.gov for public access and commenting that are not regulations (e.g., environmental impact statements, agency guidelines). What are your thoughts on reusing Regulations.gov to expand public access to these documents? For example, users could access these documents through distinct portals connected to Regulations.gov.
  6. Feedback on the Exchange – How do you find the Regulations.gov Exchange as a platform to interact with public stakeholders? Are there other ways to meet this challenge, such as wikis or traditional outreach like public hearings?
We thank you for your participation. As always, you can share your comments on the OSTP blog.
John Moses, eRulemaking Program Director

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