Broadening Public Engagement in the Federal Regulatory Process
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Federal regulations make a difference in people’s lives every day—from improving access to safe, effective, and affordable hearing aids to ensuring people are safe at work. While the process of crafting Federal regulations provides opportunities for public comment, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to making it easier for the American people to have their voice heard, especially those from underserved communities.
Today, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget is sharing a summary of learnings and potential recommendations on broadening public engagement in the Federal regulatory process, developed from written submissions and a public engagement session last November with hundreds of participants.
OIRA invites feedback on the recommendations as we continue to consider them, with these questions as a starting point:
- Which of the following recommendations would most effectively broaden public engagement in the Federal regulatory process, especially from members of underserved communities and those who do not typically participate in the regulatory process? Are there recommendations that are not helpful?
- Are there obstacles or barriers to greater public participation, especially for underserved communities, that are not addressed by these recommendations? If so, are there other recommendations that we should consider?
- Are there existing materials, such as guides or tools, that would be especially effective in revising and potentially implementing these recommendations? What new tools or guidance are needed?
- How can intermediaries—such as trade associations or coalitions—be helpful in reaching individuals and small organizations or businesses, where have they been successful in doing so, and where might they be insufficient?
Interested members of the public can submit their feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org as written feedback or recorded audio and video submissions. OIRA will be actively reviewing any submissions we receive through 5 PM ET March 10, 2023. OIRA is also planning an additional virtual listening session during which members of the public can provide their views on these recommendations, to be held 3-4:30 PM ET on Tuesday, March 7. Click here to RSVP for the virtual listening session.
The regulatory process works best when the government hears directly from members of the public, including members of underserved communities. OIRA looks forward to hearing from you about how the Federal government can support a more inclusive regulatory process.
Summary of Learnings and Recommendations
These are the potential recommendations that we’ve heard and that we’re continuing to explore with agencies, subject to applicable legal requirements. We welcome your views on these possibilities.
Help the public and agencies better understand the regulatory process and the role of OIRA, including identifying opportunities for engagement.
- Develop accessible material explaining key steps in the regulatory process, describing why regulations matter, and helping members of the public understand how to write comments (for examples, consider the Department of Labor’s explainer tool for public participation in the regulatory process or the guide to writing effective comments available on Regulations.gov)
- Proactively disseminate relevant materials, especially through partnerships with community-based organizations, industry intermediaries (such as trade associations), and other institutions
- Demonstrate how public comments make a difference in rulemaking by providing prominent examples
Make regulatory material more accessible and useable by members of the public
- Use plain language
- Adapt material to mobile-friendly formats (for example, by offering alternatives to PDFs)
- Produce material in easily accessible formats, like infographics, videos, and short summaries (for example, consider the Food and Drug Administration’s summary of potential regulatory actions related to flavored tobacco products in a plain-language fact sheet or the Department of Labor’s video explanation on a 2016 rule concerning overtime)
- Use standardized language to describe key processes across agencies
- Highlight key questions and issues on which agencies seek the public’s views—for example, by using simplified and standardized questions and text boxes or forms and embedding them into agency websites so that they are easy to find (consider the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ summary of key questions and electronic text boxes for a recent Request for Information on access to coverage and care for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program)
- Consider opportunities for members of the public to provide input in multiple formats, for instance through recorded video or audio submissions in addition to written submissions
Proactively engage communities early and throughout the regulatory process to efficiently use government and community time and resources
- Encourage agencies to engage with relevant stakeholders to develop ways to facilitate public participation in the regulatory process
- Use the Regulatory Agenda, a biannual publication of forthcoming agency regulatory activities, as a tool for encouraging public participation, including by asking agencies to conduct engagement when developing their submissions as feasible and to identify affected communities so that the agencies can then reach out to those communities for input (for an example, consider OIRA’s instructions to agencies in the Fall 2022 data call for the development of the Regulatory Agenda)
- Conduct outreach to key communities and stakeholders when agencies are still formulating regulatory priorities, and communicate clearly and plainly to the public as appropriate about how agencies are thinking about policy problems, needs, and alternatives
- Consider using a variety of meeting and engagement formats, including online and in-person sessions, while ensuring that agencies take into account the barriers that members of some communities may face to participation (these might be related to work hours, disability, access to transportation and Internet access, language access, or knowledge of or trust in government agencies; for an example, consider the Department of Transportation’s virtual public meeting to learn more about the air travel experiences of individuals who use wheelchairs)
- Encourage agency review of public engagement in the rulemaking process (for example, determining whether members of potentially-affected communities are indeed participating in agency opportunities) and conduct outreach where it might be needed based on the review
- Encourage agencies to study the effectiveness of their community engagement strategies and change what might not be working