Federal Electronic Rulemaking Progresses, But More Work is Needed

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The federal government has made progress in its electronic rulemaking process, but there is much more work to be done, according to a new General Accounting Office (GAO) report requested by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman (D-CT).

“Unfortunately, the public remains more than a mouse click away from submitting comments on proposed federal regulations,” said Senator Collins. “I’m encouraged by the steps the government has taken, especially with the introduction of Regulations.gov. But it’s still difficult to navigate through the tangled online regulatory Web sites of individual agencies.”

In 1998, Congress enacted the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which requires that by October 21, 2003, federal agencies provide the public with the option of submitting, maintaining and disclosing information electronically. The E-Government Act of 2002 further requires that public comments should be accepted “by electronic means.” The Regulations.gov Web site was created earlier this year to meet those goals, but the site has not yet been widely embraced.

“The E-Government Act requires that the public be given a greater voice in the rulemaking process through use of the Internet,” said Senator Lieberman, author of that law. “The GAO found slow and inconsistent progress towards that goal. The Regulations.gov site, although functional, is barely used. And the Environmental Protection Agency was found to have made the least progress of the major regulatory agencies, which raises questions about why the EPA was designated the lead agency for the Administration’s e-rulemaking initiative.”

GAO cited the following reasons for the low number of public electronic submissions:

— Some federal agencies use confusing terminology to describe their links to proposed rules;
— Some agency Web sites have limited search capabilities;
— Although Regulations.gov contains 91 percent of the government’s proposed regulations open for comment, the Web site has not been widely advertised to the public, and most agency sites fail to link to it.

“We applaud GAO for identifying these issues, and we are hopeful that agencies can move forward in making needed changes to Regulations.gov,” said Senators Collins and Lieberman.