Regulations.gov: Remaking Public Participation
On January 18, 2011, the President issued Executive Order 13563, in which he directed regulatory agencies to base regulations on an “open exchange of information and perspectives” and to promote public participation in Federal rulemaking. The President identified Regulations.gov as the centralized portal for timely public access to regulatory content online.
In response to the President’s direction, Regulations.gov has launched a major redesign, including innovative new search tools, social media connections, and better access to regulatory data. The result is a significantly improved website that will help members of the public to engage with agencies and ultimately to improve the content of rules.
The redesign of Regulations.gov also fulfills the President’s commitment in The Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to “improve public services,” including to “expand public participation in the development of regulations.” This step is just one of many, consistent with the National Action Plan, designed to make our Federal Government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are technical interfaces/tools that allow people to pull regulatory content from Regulations.gov. For most of us, the addition of “APIs” on Regulations.gov doesn’t mean much, but for web managers and experts in the applications community, providing APIs will fundamentally change the way people will be able to interact with public federal regulatory data and content.
The initial APIs will enable developers to pull data out of Regulations.gov, and in future releases, the site will include APIs for receiving comment submissions from other sites. With the addition of APIs, other web sites - ranging from other Government sites to industry associations to public interest groups – will now be able to repurpose publicly-available regulatory information on Regulations.gov, and format this information in unique ways such as mobile apps, analytical tools, “widgets” and “mashups.” We don’t know exactly where this will lead us – technological advances are full of surprises – but we are likely to see major improvements in public understanding and participation in rulemaking.
Making Federal rulemaking content available for open exchange was a key goal set out by the President in Executive Order 13563, and we eagerly await the use of these new APIs to enhance and transform public participation in the regulatory process.
For the first time, users will now be able to browse by categories of regulations. This step moves us closer to meeting the recent Jobs Council recommendation to enable regulations to be searched by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes, (NAICS is a standard used by Federal agencies in classifying industry). The ten new categories include:
- Aerospace and Transportation
- Agriculture, Environment, and Public Lands
- Banking and Financial
- Commerce and International
- Defense, Law Enforcement, and Security
- Education, Labor, Presidential, and Government Services
- Energy, Natural Resources, and Utilities
- Food Safety, Health, and Pharmaceutical
- Housing, Development, and Real Estate
Technology and Telecommunications
As a result of changes in the search functionality and results page, Regulations.gov now includes more user-friendly sorting and filtering tools. Users can now sort by “Comment Due Date” and “newly posted regulations” and can filter by “Category.”
There is also a new feature called “Document Spotlight,” which allows users to hover their cursors over the documents listed in the search result page, and view additional information about a specific document without having to go first to the docket. Information like the RIN, highlighted keyword search matches, and whether the comment period is open/closed can be viewed quickly and easily from the Search Results page.
The Federal regulatory process can be hard to understand, and a new “Learn” section offers an interactive explanation of the regulatory process.
I encourage all citizens and especially those with particular interest in regulation to explore the new site and offer feedback. Comments are welcome; the Regulations.gov team and partner agencies have more improvements in the pipeline for 2012.
Cass Sunstein Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs