Use digital tools for better e-rulemaking, former official advises

Beth Noveck urges greater use of social media tools, promotes ExpertNet

The Obama administration's drive to simplify federal rulemaking should make more use of digital tools and social media to get more alternative approaches to regulation, Beth Noveck, former White House deputy CTO for open government, said today.

President Barack Obama called for streamlining and modernizing federal regulation in his State of the Union speech, and several actions would help achieve those goals, Noveck, who returned to her position as law professor at New York Law School two weeks ago, wrote in her personal blog.

She recommended the immediate use of social media tools for public comment, further development of the White House’s ExpertNet application for in-depth and structured commenting, and in the coming months, pre-rulemaking solicitations of broader public input on substitutes for regulation, such as contests and partnerships.


Related story:

Beth Noveck leaving White House on Jan. 15

White House starts wiki for ExpertNet


Federal agencies enact 4,000 to 8,000 new rules per year. Typically, an agency develops and publishes a proposed rule, notifies the public and solicits comments, makes modifications and publishes a final rule. After a proposed rule is released, making adjustments is difficult.

"The rulemaking process is geared to do only one thing: write rules,” wrote Noveck. Instead, the White House needs to retrain rule writers to be problem solvers.”

For example, agencies currently use Regulations.gov as a platform for soliciting public comment on proposed rules, but they should move beyond that, Noveck wrote.

Agencies should immediately make use of free or low-cost social media tools at their disposal, including Ideascale, Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms such as Cornell University’s “Regulation Room,” to get public input on pending proposed rules in the early planning stages, Noveck said.

Previously, it made sense to centralize comments at Regulations.gov, but now agencies should be encouraged to hold multiple discussions on multiple platforms online, she added, noting that the Transportation Department recently used Cornell’s Regulation Room blog for that purpose.

In addition, in the next six months, the White House should continue developing the ExpertNet platform to solicit answers to questions in a broader and more in-depth fashion, she added.

“Such a tool would make it simple for any public official to use a wizard to set up a topic with public consultation questions; distribute and direct those questions to those with specific expertise and interests; configure a template for use in responding to questions so that the public would be providing empirical support for their responses; and synthesize the feedback,” Noveck wrote.

Noveck also said the White House should direct agencies to solicit comment on open-ended and alternative approaches to solving a problem before any notice of proposed rulemaking.

The administration should invite people to develop short proposals supported by empirical evidence to solving “every problem on its agenda, considering every alternative,” she wrote.

“At present, there is no opportunity for people outside of government to propose a prize-backed challenge, public-private partnership, social behavioral ‘nudge,’ collective volunteer action, or new software platform as complements or alternatives to create the desired behavior change and consumer protection,” Noveck wrote.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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