EPA steps toward e-rulemaking

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to unveil the first stage of a governmentwide system in January 2003 that will make it easier for the public to comment on proposed rules and regulations.

The EPA took charge of the Online Rulemaking Management project — one of 24 cross-agency e-government initiatives the Bush administration highlighted — from the Transportation Department about two months ago.

"We have agencies already lining up who don't have systems who really want them," said Oscar Morales, the initiative's director.

The EPA will enhance its own e-rulemaking system, which uses a solution from Documentum Inc. Its scalability and flexibility are crucial to making the transition, officials said.

"They know they're going to go out to a lot of people, both in the agencies and the public, and they wanted something that could scale to that degree," said Blix Jones, an account executive at Documentum.

Nearly 100 agencies publish rules and regulations in the Federal Register, but only 12 or so have electronic dockets, according to Morales.

"We're going to create a system that will migrate the current [systems] and add on all the other [agencies]," he said.

E-rulemaking will be accessible from the federal Web portal FirstGov, initially as a simple application and tool.

The second module, or version of e-rulemaking, will store, index and maintain documents throughout their lifecycle. Comments will be accessible online. "Now you'll be able to do this from your home PC," as opposed to sifting through papers in an agency office, Morales said.

The EPA plans to make an acquisition next year for a contractor who will construct the final system, with tools that help regulatory staff do their jobs and standardize the rulemaking process.

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