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An Open Government Anniversary

By Alex Moll, Communications Officer, eRulemaking Program Management Office

Executive Summary – This past month marked the one year anniversary of a significant Open Government milestone. One year ago, President Obama signed Executive Order 13563, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review.” Since then its implementation appears on the pages of agency retrospective reviews, new guidance set forth by OIRA, and planned Regulations.gov improvements throughout 2012.

Regulatory Review – You can learn more about the Executive Order (EO) and see agency regulatory retrospective review plans at Regulations.gov Exchange. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) noted progress in regulatory reform in a recent White House blog post. Also, when the President addressed a Joint Session of Congress to present the American Jobs Act (see video), he spoke of the importance and role of regulatory review and policy. Scroll the dial manually on the YouTube video to 23:30 to check out his remarks.

Improving Regulation and eRulemaking – The eRulemaking Program Office, a federal-wide E-Gov and Open Gov initiative, manages Regulations.gov. Regulations.gov is the source for agencies to receive public comments on all regulations and other types of federal decisions (i.e., task force plans). Thirty-nine partner departments and agencies, representing more than 90% of the federal regulations issued each year, pay a fee-for-service to use the system as well as upload regulatory information. This comprises information found in the Federal Register and more (i.e. analytical data, public comments, etc.). The EO charges the program and partner agencies to afford “the public a meaningful opportunity to comment through the Internet on any proposed regulation.” This agenda is front and center for the program.

New Developments in eRulemaking – This month, the program plans to roll out a first in a series of big improvements. In response to Section 2 of the EO, the eRulemaking Program will overhaul Regulations.gov to improve usability, increase public participation in rulemaking and provide more opportunities to educate about the regulatory process. Subsequent releases throughout 2012 will improve commenting mechanisms, search functions, docket, document pages, and other new features to facilitate public participation in rulemaking.

Significance of the EO Anniversary and You – This means greater public access and, ultimately, better rules, since rules become refined with diversity of distributed expertise. These new developments will mark the anniversary with more transparency, participation, and collaboration in the rulemaking process.

  • Transparency – While carefully weighing costs versus benefits serves as a standard practice in rulemaking, the President’s call for retrospective analyses includes that regulatory data “be released online whenever possible.” However, there’s another big reason to celebrate the EO. When citizens have increased access to regulatory analysis (i.e. cost/benefit analyses, risk assessments, etc.), there’s a greater likelihood of everyone to make informed comments.
  • Public Participation – Over the course of last year, online citizen consultations were part of the process to develop agency regulatory reviews. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) incorporated the use of IdeaScale. Agencies also requested feedback through Regulations.gov. Here you can see the DHS final retrospective plan and comments. Also, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) forum discussion on the Exchange was an outreach effort to request for early feedback on potential plans.
  • Collaboration – Based on a recent ACUS report (Table 1, page 24), you can see a public need to increase links from agency web pages to Regulations.gov. With outreach to federal web managers, you can imagine how agency web pages can serve as public gateways to Regulations.gov. Also, third party websites (i.e., news websites) have the potential to serve as portals to participation. More access points create more opportunities for participation.

Discussion – In the weeks ahead, blog posts from the eRulemaking Program will inform you about the re-launch of Regulations.gov and our plans. In meantime, what are your thoughts about the President’s EO?

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