On Change and Using a Blog to Write a Rule

My mother was born two weeks before Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. She has witnessed amazing changes in her life: the advent of air transportation, the proliferation of television, the near eradication of scourges like small pox and polio, men walking on the moon, the internet. Yet when I asked her how she felt about these changes, I did not get the response I expected. She shrugged. “Yes, things have improved a lot.” That was it.

Deep in middle age, I now understand that answer. The time scale our brains work on is easily swamped by the broader march of technology. After a dash of initial wonder, we just assimilate advances and move on. A few decades ago, every Christmas Day my family would crowd around a phone in our house and have hurried static-filled ‘long distance’ conversations with relatives in other lands. Two weeks ago one of my kids got a call from a friend. My daughter was walking in the woods. Her friend was sitting in a cafe in Florence, Italy. This does not amaze them. It no longer amazes me. In fact, I can’t really remember how we got to this place. It just happened.

Today the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency signed a proposed rule modifying how EPA determines the Air Quality Index for fine particle pollution. As proposals go, it is not terribly notable. And yet . . . this will be the first proposed rule issued by a federal agency that will allow the public to comment on the rule using a blog. The blog will be open from March 2 to March 11 which corresponds to public hearings on the proposal. (EPA’s blog, “Greenversations” will provide more information on how to participate in the near future.) Mark it as a small step on the way to what I believe will be a dramatic change in the way the federal government crafts rules and regulations. A small step, but one that, with others, will accumulate to the point where the government will be able to produce better quality rules much more quickly than in the past.

We live in the Information Age. It is sweeping over us like advancing waves on a beach. Federal agencies can either seize the tools that are coming from this change or just let the tide pick us up and deposit us in a new place. EPA is choosing to seize the day. We are not doing this because we want to amaze people with whiz-bang Web 2.0 technology. We do this because when someone in the future is asked about the changes they have seen in the environment, they will just shrug their shoulders and say, “Yes, things have improved a lot.”

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Scott Horvath

While I think it’s a great that EPA is using a blog to asking for comments on a proposed rule, I don’t think it’s earth shattering. Using a “blog” is only the mechanism for asking for comment. But there are other methods. For instance, we [USGS] worked with BLM (Bureau of Land Management) to set up an open commenting time for the latest draft reports related to abrupt climate change. The mechanism used was a file management system…not a blog. But the only difference are the comments are not displayed (that was purposeful so that there wouldn’t be personal information on the site) and the draft reports are in a different content delivery system.

I’m not down playing the EPA’s move to use a blog…certainly a good idea. I just wouldn’t focus so much on the technology used to ask for comments but rather the fact that the Government is asking the public for comments on government policy. That in itself is a step in the right direction toward government transparency and participation.

Jerry Gidner

Marcus – I think it is great that the EPA is doing that. And while I agree with Scott that the important thing is the public participation, regardless of technology, I think we as government leaders do need to keep driving our agencies to use newer communications technologies – case in point: how long have blogs existed? Government is just now starting to use them, or other advanced IT technologies inour business practices. I think there is so much we can do if we can let go of our death grip on the old familiar ways and be open to newer things. Many of our employees certainly are as individuals, and that means the citiznes we serve do as well, and we have to reach them where they are. I think it is exciting.

Scott Horvath

I agree that pushing our organizations into new communications technologies is imperative. And using a blog to receive public comment is certainly out of the norm for Government…which does help it to get some much deserved attention and recognition.

Marcus Peacock

Good comments here. My point is that it is the accumulation of small steps that get us to unrecognizable places. We just got to make sure we keep pushing forward on the small steps.

Jeffrey Levy

Ah, wonderful to see this here, too. Are you going to keep blogging on govloop? Maybe we can spur each other to do so.

Scott: gov’t has been asking people for comments on policy for at least 60 years, since the Administrative Procedures Act. What’s truly new now, both at EPA and in your efforts, is the mechanisms we’re using and how they open it up much more than in the past.