GAO: Get interactive on regulations

Federal agencies are using information technology to help them manage and enforce government regulations, but they could do more than simply enhance traditional approaches, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

GAO surveyed five federal agencies responsible for managing health, safety and environmental regulations. The survey sought examples of how IT is used innovatively in regulation management, which includes collecting information to make rules and helping affected organizations to comply with the rules.

"Increased use of IT in regulatory management has the potential to yield significant benefits, from improving the quality and quantity of public participation in rule making to reducing [the] burden on regulated entities," according to the report, which was requested by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee leaders.

Most of the examples that agency officials identified as "innovative" attempted to improve traditional regulatory management approaches, according to GAO. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration's Integrated Rulemaking Management Information System tracks the status of rulemaking projects over the Internet.

However, the report urges agencies to "realize the full capabilities of IT" by developing more interactive approaches to regulatory management.

GAO did find some interactive regulatory applications, such as the Labor Department's Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses (elaws) Web site. Elaws connects workers and small businesses with virtual advisers to help them understand their rights and responsibilities under federal employment laws and regulations.

Another interactive application the report notes is the Transportation Department's Do It Yourself (DIY) system, which enables regulated organizations to file for required licenses and certifications and make related payments online.

GAO recommended that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs develop a way for agencies to more easily share their experiences in using IT to help manage regulations, and it urged OIRA to find cross-governmental IT approaches that multiple agencies could use.

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