Information-sharing and discussion by the community of practitioners & advocates of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) which requires the decisionmaking by all federal agencies to be more participatory and better informed.
NEPA and the "Open Government Directive"
May 15, 2009 at 3:39 pm #72148
The whole reason for creating NEPA (way back in 1969) was to help the decisionmakers in federal agencies make more informed and, therefore, better decisions.
And, in order to make those better, more informed decisions, the legal requirements of NEPA require that the public be invited to participate in that decisionmaking process. However, it has not been easy for the public to do that.
Now, with the advent of the Internet, along with the President's desire to create an "Open Government Directive", it appears that there is real potential for improving the NEPA process and, in so doing, the quality of federal decisionmaking.
As we approach the May 21st due-date for the President's CTO (Chief Technology Officer) to deliver recommendations for drafting the Open Government Directive, I wonder if any thought is being given to the existing role of the NEPA process (and its practitioners) in improving federal decisionmaking through better public participation.
There is a great deal of overlap of the President's Memorandum with the existing NEPA process at federal agencies but, having not heard a peep about it, it makes me wonder if the White House team in charge of crafting the Open Government Directive even knows, let alone appreciates, that this overlap with NEPA even exists.
Here is part of what the President's Memorandum says:
"Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information."
I have seen unofficial reports that, on May 21st, the "recommendations" for the Open Government Directive will be made available for online public comment. Perhaps there will be something there involving the role of the NEPA process. (Or not.)
As a NEPA practitioner, what are your thoughts on this? Have you heard of any recognition of NEPA's role? And, if you are reading this after the recommendations have been offered for online public comment, what do you think of any NEPA-related suggestions there?
NOTE: If, as a government employee, you are not comfortable posting your thoughts here, please feel free to send them directly to me, and I will post them for you, without any information that would identify you.
June 2, 2009 at 4:30 am #72154
On Wednesday, June 3rd, the White House will begin Phase 2 (Discussion) of its online public engagement process for developing an "Open Government Directive".
During Phase 1 (Brainstorming), there were (are) two "Ideas" about how NEPA can be a (bigger) part of a more "transparent and open government". I do not know if they will make "the cut" and exist in some form when the curtain opens on Phase 2.
But I want "NEPAtowners" to be aware of them, just in case they do make it to the next stage.
"NEPA.GOV: Modernize the National Environmental Policy Process to Mandate Online Participation"
(by John Able)
"NEPA: turn the writing of the EIS into an "open-book" process"
(by Nicholas Dewar)
I invited John Able and Nicholas to NEPAtown. John has joined, but not Nicholas (yet).
The most interesting development since the end of Phase 1 (Brainstorming), even though the site is still active, is that the White House has just released the text of comments that were made on the OMB's "MAX wiki" by feds back in March.
If you go to this webpage for the White House's "Open Government Initiative", there is an obscure link to the discussion text about "Participation". If you scroll down, you will see a link to "Attachment #1" which is a powerpoint about an NAS report entitled "Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making".
Even though the name are redacted in the discussion text, you can do a word-search for "environmental" and find the comments of the person who created the powerpoint (Roger Bernier of the CDC).
Because of what you see there, in that section, I think you might agree with me that some type of idea on "Participation-related-to-NEPA" will surface in the White House's Phase 2 on Wednesday.
And, if not, then we may have to use Phase 2 (Discussion) to make sure that it gets on their radar-screen.
December 17, 2009 at 4:01 pm #72152
I view the Open Government Directive (OGD) as broader than just NEPA. What how can anything be broader than NEPA. Simply put - NEPA assists in the decision making process for those activities that have environmental impacts to the human environment. Many other governance activities have been interpretted to fall outside this scope - both by the government and the courts.
Additionally OGD paints a different mental model regarding participation, transparency, and collaboration. NEPA has it's background from theories established in the 1950's - in fact the EIS process is basically a reflection of the "rationale decision model" which was developed in 1955. Even at the time of NEPA enactment as a nation we still held government in a much different light than we did after the 1970's and different than today. In 1969 although the role of government was being challenged it still had a progressive reform beaucratic background - thus "informing" the public was a break through from the ideal (mental model) of the government being the expert and always the one in charge.
OGD challenges this paradigm and in some ways will hopefully change how we comply with NEPA - especially in cases of greater public interest. In this situations we hope to have much broader dialogue with a broader set of interests from the public.
December 17, 2009 at 6:11 pm #72150
I'm not sure what you mean when you say "OGD challenges this paradigm" in the last paragraph.
Which paradigm are you referring to?
1. The "government-as-expert" paradigm (pre-NEPA)
2. The "government-as-engager" paradigm (NEPA)
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