The Future of Federal Rulemaking: Federal Docket Management System and Beyond
Susan E. Dudley, Administrator
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
Office of Management and Budget
Executive Office of the President
American Bar Association Fall 2008 Administrative Law Conference
Government Regulation, its Impact and Future
October 17, 2008
Thank you for inviting me today. As the Administrator of OIRA, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and as someone who served as a career economist on its staff in the 1980s, I am pleased to be here to talk with you today about OIRA’s current role in the federal rulemaking process and what lies ahead for rulemaking in the United States. My perspective on the eRulemaking initiative is that of a user; I am sure that there are individuals here who are more knowledgeable on what it actually takes to make regulations.gov work, and what is involved in that process.
I continue to find regulation fascinating after 25 years of studying it and working with it. It affects every aspect of social and economic activity in United States.Â To this end, I can assure you that I have one of the very best jobs in Washington. This is especially the case because we have made some very exciting reforms in the last few years to the regulatory process in the United States.
Each year, federal agencies issue thousands of new regulations affecting every aspect of social and economic activity in United States. Accessing information on a regulation or rulemaking used to involve what now seems like a very long and tedious process involving physically going to an agency’s docket room, locating the appropriate document, and making copies for reference or use. Aside from the obvious logistical problems this posed, it also resulted in extremely limited access to the rulemaking activities of an agency. Only those sophisticated in the ways of Washington could influence rulemaking.
The Administration’s eRulemaking initiative has changed that, while at the same time providing American citizens a greater voice in the regulatory decision-making process. As you know, the Administration launched regulations.gov in 2005, making it possible for the public to access and comment on all proposed federal regulations from a single website. It also employed the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS), providing federal agencies the ability to keep records of their rulemaking activities and other public documents electronically.
The importance of eRulemaking is reinforced by the interest shown by this distinguished ABA committee. I welcome your Committee report and the valuable attention you have paid to the Initiative.
I share your vision to leverage technology to enhance public participation in regulatory process. After only a few short years in existence, regulations.gov has received over one million users who have visited the site to view, download or comment on regulations. As technology advances, more opportunities to expand public participation in the rulemaking process are likely to present themselves.
Generally though, I don’t think the Report does justice to the eRulemaking initiative. When considering regulations, it’s always important to start with the right baseline. The Report seems to start with an ideal, and finds that eRulemaking doesn’t quite measure up. However, if you start with the baseline of five and a half years ago, you will probably come to a different conclusion: eRulemaking has transformed access to the federal government rulemaking process.
Regulations.gov has brought government-wide information together in one easy-to-access location. Rules are searchable by subject, agency, stage of rule, and other criteria. A visitor to Regulations.gov can find regulations on a particular subject, determine whether they are open for comment, access important supporting documents, file comments on proposals, and even read comments filed by others in ready time. It has also adopted features that, five years ago, we didn’t consider important to the rulemaking process, such as RSS feeds, book-marking, etc.
I don’t want to suggest that we’re done, or that there isn’t room for further innovation. That is certainly not the case. But the foundation laid over the last five years will allow us to innovate in ways most valued by regulating agencies and the public.
Within OMB, we have transferred “ownership” of eRulemaking from the E-Government office to OIRA. This move reflects our view that the system is established. However, it is important to continue to improve upon what we’ve built.Â We are now focusing on content and usability; how the information is used both by the public and by regulatory agencies.
As the project moves forward, we can anticipate electronic availability of more and higher quality information, further enhancements in public participation, new rule-writing tools, greater government accountability, more timely actions, and ultimately, better regulatory decisions affecting the economic vitality, safety, health, and environment of our country.
I welcome your questions, and thank you again for inviting me to speak today.