Many Americans view government regulations as complicated
edicts handed down by distant bureaucrats. But what if ordinary
citizens from across the country could monitor rulemaking in Washington,
D.C. and participate actively in the process of making new government
regulations - all without ever leaving their offices or homes? Information
technology may hold the answer.
According to participants at a recent conference organized by CBG's
Regulatory Policy Program (RPP), an
emerging field known as "e-rulemaking" may help expand
the public's role in regulatory policymaking, as well as give regulators
better tools for crafting more cost-effective regulations.
At the January 21-22, 2003 conference, RPP brought
together forty of the nation's leading experts from computer sciences,
law, and public management, along with key leaders from government,
to forge an agenda for future research on regulatory applications
of information technology. Participants analyzed existing best practices
and worked toward crafting research strategies to build the next
generation of e-rulemaking.
E-rulemaking is part of a government-wide effort
to use information technology to enhance democratic engagement and
improve government services. At its most basic level, e-rulemaking
provides citizens a greatly expanded opportunity through the Internet
to review and comment on new government regulations.
Each year, hundreds of different government agencies
- from the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation to the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - issue thousands of regulations affecting
almost every aspect of citizens' lives. Some of these agencies are
beginning to allow citizens to view proposed regulations online.
Citizens can then submit electronic comments on these rules, and
sometimes even interact with government officials and other interested
citizens through online deliberations.
"If citizens can shop and bank online, surely
they should be able to petition their government online," said
Cary Coglianese, the chair of the
Regulatory Policy Program. "Information technology can make
it easier for citizens to participate in the process of making regulatory
The timing of the workshop dovetailed with the Bush
Administration's announcement of its first major e-rulemaking initiative,
website, launched the day after the conference closed, serves as
a clearinghouse for all federal regulations under development by
federal agencies and will enable citizens to file electronic comments
- up to 16,000 per hour - on any proposed regulation, regardless
of the originating federal agency. The public officials leading
the Regulations.Gov initiative also participated in the Regulatory
Policy Program's conference.
While Regulations.Gov is certainly an innovative
endeavor, according to some participants at the RPP conference the
site does not tap the full potential for citizen participation and
interaction in rulemaking that even existing technologies make possible.
Some agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Environmental
Protection Agency have already implemented more sophisticated e-rulemaking
systems; there remains, though, a clear need for new applications
of information technology in the regulatory process, as well as
research into ways of reengineering the regulatory process to take
better advantage of new technologies. The workshop opened the dialogue
on some of these opportunities.
"Even on the information superhighway, every
journey begins with one step," said Coglianese. "Right
now, only a small fraction of agencies allow the public to submit
comments electronically. The future promises still more opportunities
for creative applications of information technology."
The RPP conference will form the basis for a report to the National
Science Foundation on research strategies for increasing and managing
public participation in all stages of e-rulemaking, as well as to
improve the government's internal analysis and management of rulemaking.
While technological capabilities are not limitless, most participants
recognized that information systems can help ameliorate, and perhaps
break through, some of the morass of rulemaking.
"Government regulation impacts everything from
economic health to public health, so the smart use of information
technology will be important for both regulators and the public,"