Suggestions for Best Practice
Electronic Docket Rooms
- A federal agency that engages in rulemaking needs an electronic docket room, including:
- A list of rulemakings that are open for comment.
- An index, providing an overview and allowing users to retrieve commentary on a broad topic without relying on a search engine.
- A search engine to allow easy access to material including specific elements of a particular topic.
- A compilation of all comments received during a rulemaking process; these should be scanned onto a publicly available electronic database as promptly as possible.
- Weekly summaries and subject matter indices to make it easy for participants to review prior submissions.
- The public should be encouraged to submit comments by e-mail or in web format.
- Anonymous browsing and copying should be allowed.
- Each docket should provide material explaining the statutory and regulatory background of the rule under consideration. Information explaining policy issues confronting the agency could also be posted.
- A procedure should be established to answer public queries about the proposal.
- Pop up definitions can be used to explain technical terms if necessary.
Rebuttal Comment Periods
- Rebuttal comment periods can encourage an exchange among participants by allowing those who have submitted comments to respond to others' views. Agencies should frame issues for debate beforehand, in the preamble text. To encourage discussion, parties should be asked to submit comments early.
- Agencies should experiment with online dialogues to promote broader civic engagement. Moderated discussions can help participants with divergent views interact productively in the course of a comment period. Educational mechanisms such as roundtable discussions should also be explored. Each of these possibilities will require a codification of the rules of procedure for the agency and participants.
Other Best Practices
- Active electronic notification can supplement traditional passive public notification through the Federal Register.
- Congress or OMB should set standards to prohibit anonymous filing of comments and address the First Amendment issues that are presented by obscene or threatening comments.
- Disclosure issues that arise when proprietary models and copyrighted materials are filed in a rulemaking docket must be addressed.