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Public comments and the regulatory process

The Office of Management and Budget has received some interesting feedback on how federal agencies can do a better job of getting public input on proposed regulations.

On Jan. 30, President Obama directed OMB to recommend provisions for a new executive order on the federal regulatory review process. Late last month, OMB issued a request for comments, asking the public to weigh in on a handful of topics, among which two have potential IT angles: Transparency and public participation (to learn more, click here).

One comment of my own: It would be much easier to read the public comments if they were posted in HTML, rather than as PDFs.

As a matter of fact, several folks focused on the usability (or lack thereof) of current comment systems. Here are samples of what people had to say.

* The process of submitting comments on proposed policies online has often been so cumbersome as to give the impression that such input wasn't really wanted by the Federal government at all. I would therefore like to make the following suggestions for EVERY proposed policy for which the Federal government seeks public input through the Worldwide Web:

(A) EVERY web page that invites public input for a given policy should provide

(1) a simple series of bullets that summarize ALL of the major changes that the new policy would involve, and
(2) either a CLEARLY MARKED link that brings potential respondents directly to a form on which they can enter their comments, or the specific email address to which such comments should be sent.

(B) Every such policy announcement should also include a date by which (and the URL for a website at which) all public comments in response to the proposed policy will be posted online. Thank you for reading this, and best of luck with this process.

* Regulations.gov has made pioneering strides in making the rulemaking process more accessible in the Internet age, but it has not lived up to expectations nor to its full potential. The site is difficult to use, and finding regulatory proposals or other information can be tedious. For example, the site does not allow users to easily search for dockets – the collection of documents related to a specific rulemaking.

* Agencies should experiment with new ways to encourage participation by the public and stakeholders even prior to proposed rulemaking in order to level the playing field…  To facilitate improved participation in the pre-rule stage, agencies should notify the public of its plans to undertake a rulemaking and then provide regular updates. For example, improved tracking capabilities would allow the public to follow the rule as it develops and comment at any critical juncture that may set the course of the new policy.

* Establish a central database of valuations in OIRA. Different regulations often have similar effects—for example, reducing the incidence of a particular disease or injury. Where they do, agencies should use the same valuations. This is not the current practice. To remedy this problem, OIRA should establish a central, publicly accessible database of valuations. OIRA should establish a valuations office that keeps track of valuations and solicits outside peer-reviewed studies to refine and update existing valuations and develop new ones.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Mar 18, 2009 at 12:14 PM


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