The Obama Administration has launched an effort to focus public discussion on the design and features of Regulations.gov. As many of you know, the existing site can be very frustrating to use. With the launch of http://www.regulations.gov/exchange, you now have the opportunity to offer comments on how to improve the site.
Proponents of electronic rulemaking believe that it has valuable potential as a mechanism to encourage public participation in governmental decision making. Users can read and comment on the numerous regulations that federal agencies routinely propose. Librarians and lawyers should find it useful as a mechanism to find comments and documents concerning a particular rulemaking.
Unfortunately, the existing site does not live up to this potential. At least two major problems exist. The designers did not construct the site around the concept of regulatory dockets, but instead built it to search for documents placed in any docket. Thus a web search combs through every rulemaking document on the Web site in this ever growing database.
Another problem is the metadata. Agencies are not required to encode their documents using common protocols, which often makes a search extremely difficult. Finally, agencies do not always put all the relevant material that belongs in a rulemaking docket into the electronic docket.
If you have experienced problems using Regulations.gov, please head over to http://www.regulations.gov/exchange/ and offer your thoughts. For much more on the problems with the site and other ideas for reform, please take a look at the American Bar Association’s report on e-rulemaking.
[Posted by AALL Government Relations Committee member Barbara Brandon and Emily Feldman]