Harvard suggests improvements for Regulations.gov

Kennedy School of Government's report: E-Rulemaking: Information Technology and Regulation Policy

Regulations.gov only scratches the surface of the potential of the e-rulemaking initiative, and existing or new technologies can greatly enhance the project's benefits, according to an outside report.

The Center for Business and Government at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government studied Regulations.gov, one of the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives, and outlined prospective technologies and metrics that can evaluate the use of technology. The group conducted two research workshops to make technology and planning recommendations on the initiative, which allows businesses and citizens to find, review and comment on regulations online.

"The e-rulemaking workshops made clear that the government's efforts to accept electronic comments and make regulatory documents available online mark only the beginning of what can be accomplished," states the report, written by Cary Coglianese, associate professor for public policy.

The report suggested several forms of technology to enhance the Web portal: information retrieval software to isolate relevant data, text categorization software to organize public comments, applications to create digital juries to link citizens and rule compliance wizards to guide the rule-writing process. Workshop participants also suggested the use of improved data mining capabilities to give rule writers more information and aid plain language translators in rule drafting.

"Some of these new uses of information technology will simply require applying existing technologies to existing institutional practices," the report states. "Over the long term, however, e-rulemaking will call for new technologies, new institutional practices, or both."

The report presented four goals of e-rulemaking and outlined several metrics corresponding to each goal:

The initiative can increase democratic legitimacy by using IT to increase the public's understanding of rulemaking and create a more interactive process. The success of this goal could be measured in the number of comments submitted, the types of issues raised in comments and the frequency of litigation challenging the rules.

The program can improve policy decisions by making it easier for officials to analyze large volumes of information. The metrics for this goal could include the costs associated with achieving the required regulatory benefit and the comparison of costs and benefits.

E-rulemaking has the potential to decrease administrative costs, measurable by the number of staff members used and the amount of time it takes to develop a rule.

The initiative can increase regulatory compliance, which can be measured by the level of knowledge of the rule and the extent of compliance with the rule.

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