Public Comments Lost after Regulations.gov Glitch
by Matthew Madia, 9/1/2009
A glitch on the federally run Regulations.gov website prevented more than 100 users from successfully submitting comments to several rulemaking agencies, according to Nextgov.com reporter Aliya Sternstein. Unfortunately, even though the service disruption occurred in late July, the problem is far from resolved.
The glitch affected comments submitted from July 26 to July 30 via Regulations.gov, the website where the public can file comments on proposed regulations and other government documents. After Regulations.gov staff detected and solved the problem, they alerted all the agencies affected.
One of the affected agencies is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). On Aug. 26, almost a month after the problem was detected, CMS published a notice in the Federal Register asking the public to resubmit comments on two regulations affected by the glitch. The comment period for both rules ended Aug. 31 – just five days after CMS asked for resubmission.
But CMS’s handling of the situation is exemplary when compared to other agencies. “The problems affected nine departments and two independent agencies, including parts of EPA, the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Transportation, and Treasury, as well as the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Trade Representative,” according to Nextgov.com. As far as I can tell, only CMS has made a formal announcement to date. The rest of those agencies have failed to indicate to the public the extent to which they were affected by the glitch. (If you’re aware of any action these agencies have taken, please leave a note in the comments below.)
Meanwhile, EPA, which runs Regulations.gov on behalf of the entire Executive Branch, is busy passing the buck. “Regulations.gov officials would not provide the names of the specific rule-making actions affected outside EPA, saying they cannot speak for other departments,” Nextgov.com reports.
But EPA could post a notice on the Regulations.gov homepage alerting users that any comments filed on the dates in question may not have reached the intended recipient. In my humble opinion, if a user filed an electronic comment with an affected agency during the problem period, he or she should double check to make sure the comment appears on Regulations.gov or contact the agency to verify. (You can begin by searching for your name or by sifting through the docket of the rule you commented on.)
Someone needs to step up and take responsibility for this glitch and then begin implementing a plan to take appropriate corrective actions. Mistakes happen, but ownership and prevention of future mishaps are the true measures of accountability.
Image by Flickr user bennylin0724, used under a Creative Commons license.