Federal Rulemaking:

Agencies' Use of Information Technology to Facilitate Public Participation

GGD-00-135R: Published: Jun 30, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how federal agencies are using information technology (IT) to facilitate public participation in the rulemaking process, focusing on the: (1) potentially beneficial uses of IT in the rulemaking process that have not yet been adopted by federal agencies; and (2) benefits and drawbacks of standardizing innovative uses of IT across multiple agencies.

GAO noted that: (1) all five of the regulatory agencies that GAO examined were using some form of IT to notify the public about opportunities to participate in rulemaking and to facilitate the receipt of public comments; (2) all of these agencies had web sites that conveyed rulemaking information to the public or maintained some rulemaking records in electronic form, and all of them accepted electronic comments for at least some of their proposed rules; (3) however, the specific features and uses of IT differed significantly between and sometimes within the agencies; (4) for example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) had established an Internet web site that housed regulatory information for every agency within DOT and was searchable in a variety of ways; (5) other agencies either had no such information electronically available or the nature of the information available varied from one part of DOT to another; (6) some of the agencies were beginning to use targeted, proactive notifications of forthcoming rules, and some were experimenting with interactive comment processes; (7) the individuals and organizations with whom GAO spoke did not identify any potentially beneficial IT-based public participation applications that had not been adopted by at least one of the regulatory agencies that GAO examined; (8) however, some of them indicated that certain IT practices should be more widely used; (9) several individuals and organizations suggested that agencies move to a more consistent organization, content, and presentation of information to allow for a more common "look and feel" to agencies' IT-based public participation mechanisms in rulemaking; (10) although some of the individuals and organizations that GAO contacted said that standardization of IT-based public participation innovations across agencies could lead to more participation in the rulemaking process, the agency representatives that GAO contacted generally did not believe that cross-agency standardization was either necessary or appropriate; (11) they said that each agency needed to develop systems appropriate for their particular circumstances and that there were no data indicating that the lack of standardization was a problem, or that standardization would improve either the quantity or the quality of the participation that agencies receive during the rulemaking process; and (12) they also said that standardization would require substantial resources and that those resources might be better used in other endeavors.

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