Current E-Rulemaking Systems

by Guest Blogger, 6/19/2002

An OMB Watch assessment of currently available agency e-rulemaking systems.Dept. of Transportation

DOT's online docket, the model for OMB's OLRM initiative, is one of the most extensive e-dockets, allowing users to view all public comments submitted on a particular rule and to submit their own electronic comments. There is a link on DOT's homepage, "Dockets," that takes the user directly to a screen with several different search options. However, in order to use DOT's online docket system, it is necessary to have a docket identification number. If the user does not have this number, then a search must be done on DOT's site using key words from the rule (e.g., "tire pressure"), which will likely return an item from the docket that will contain the docket ID number. It is also necessary to have a rule's docket ID number in order to submit an electronic comment on a rule. DOT claims its system has saved more than a million dollars in administrative costs each year.

          Federal Aviation Administration
From the FAA home page, the "rulemaking" button links to a page with several options for users. By clicking on "Documents Open for Comment," the user is taken to a list of FAA regulations open for public comments. By clicking on a specific rule, the user is taken directly to the DOT dockets management system, without having to know the number of a rule. From the DOT system the user may view all other comments on that FAA rule or submit an electronic comment.

Environmental Protection Agency

EPA recently announced the launching of a new web site, called EPA Dockets, to allow the public to search regulatory documents and submit comments on rulemakings electronically.

EPA's previous online rulemaking system, the Regulatory Public Access System (RPAS), which served as a pilot for the new system, similarly allowed users to submit comments electronically, but did not provide complete access to rulemaking dockets, including public comments, which could only be viewed in paper format at various EPA docket libraries in Washington, D.C. Unlike other agencies, EPA will also accept comments on an anonymous basis through its new web site, though it encourages users to identify themselves to ensure consideration.

EPA will use a phased-in approach to bring all of its dockets into the new system -- which began on May 31 with the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, the Office of Air and Radiation, the Office of Water, and the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. However, at the moment, not all rulemaking materials from these offices are available through the new site; some public comments are only indexed -- and still available only through paper copy -- and the site only provides docket information for rulemakings in which the comment period is still open, not old rulemakings.

Dockets from other offices, including the Office of Environmental Information and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, are to be added to the system in the fall of 2002.

Department of Labor

The DOL home page has a button under the Compliance Assistance heading labeled "Rulemaking" that gives a list of major rules and compliance assistance guides. This page caters more to businesses looking for ways to comply with existing rules. It is possible, however, to eventually reach a list of proposed rules for different agencies through a long series of clicks. From DOL's home page, however, it is necessary to know the specific agency in which a rulemaking is occurring in order to view a list of rules open for comment. Interestingly, the DOL docket library in Washington, D.C., has an extensive online docket system, with an electronic copy of all rulemaking documents over the past 25 plus years. All of these documents have either already been scanned in or are electronic files. Seemingly, it would be easy for DOL to convert its internal electronic docket system to the Internet so that users would not have to visit the docket room in Washington.

          Occupational Safety and Health Administration

OSHA's home page has a "Regulation" button that takes the user directly to a page of background information, policies, and memos. There is no link on this page, however, to the OSHA docket of current rules subject to public comment and recently published in the Federal Register. There is an OSHA "e-comments" page, though it is nearly impossible to find if you don't know what it’s called. It was not returned from multiple searches that should have caught it. It is listed, however, in specified rules for which OSHA will accept electronic comments. Unfortunately, it is not possible to attach materials such as studies or journal articles to electronic comments. Anyone wishing to do so must submit three written copies to the OSHA Docket Office in Washington, D.C.

Once a user finds the link to the e-comments page within a proposed rule out for comment, it is possible to see dockets for other rules that are open for comment, though the page of rules open for comment is not retrievable through other means. The OSHA e-comments page allows the user to select from the dockets that are currently open for comment, making it easy to find a rule and submit a comment even if you don’t know the rule's docket number. After clicking on the rule that is of interest, the user may look at the Federal Register notice (within the OSHA system), or go directly to the form to submit comments.

          Mine Safety and Health Administration

On MSHA's home page there is a button labeled "Statutory and Regulatory Info" that leads to a page with a great deal of information. One click on "Federal Register Notices" leads to a page listing the dockets open for comments. This page links to all advanced notices of proposed rulemaking, proposed rules, final rules and other policy-related documents by year. The name of each rule is listed with a link to its Federal Register notice. The comment information is available from there, which usually includes an email address; unfortunately, there is no online comment form on the MSHA site.

The Department of Health and Human Services

There is no link to an online rulemaking page or regulatory information from HHS's home page. The user must click on "Agencies," for a list of specific agencies, and then select an agency to view its online docket information.

          Food and Drug Administration

From the FDA homepage a user should click on the "Dockets" button, which will lead to a Dockets Management screen. From this screen there are several options for users. The "dockets" button links to a partial list of open dockets, or a user can search the docket system using key words. There is also a button to submit electronic comments; to do so, the user must select the desired docket from a list of options (rule names and docket ID numbers are listed). There is another screen which lists comment periods that are open and also allows users to subscribe to an email list to receive a monthly listing, making it one of the few agencies that is using a proactive method of online rulemaking.

          Administration for Children and Families

From the ACF home page the user must select "Budget Policy," which brings up a page with a button called "comment on proposed rules." The user must register on the site in order to provide comments. The site says that it is not necessary to register to view others comments, though it is unclear how to get to that page without registering. Clicking on a button labeled "What is ERM?" will take the user to a page that describes HHS's electronic rulemaking, though this is not highlighted from the HHS homepage.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

From the USDA homepage, a user must select the specific agency's page of interest.

          Food Safety and Inspection Service

From the Food Safety and Inspection home page, a user must select from a drop-down menu, "Regulations and Dev Staff," and then select the "Federal Publications" button. This page allows you to see a list of rules open for public comment by year, and links to the Federal Register notice, but FSIS does not have an online comment form.

          Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

From USDA's home page, the user must select the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and then click on the "Regulations" button. There is a button labeled "comment online on specific rules," but this page is not currently accepting e-comments, though it appears to be under construction, so it could be available in the near future. It is possible to connect to rules in the Federal Register and obtain the email address from there. From the APHIS home page, it is possible to submit key words of interest to APHIS, with an email address, and whenever those key words appear on the home page, an email is sent to the user. This is another example of an agency proactively disseminating information to the public.