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GAO: Public needs better access to government rulemaking

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GAO: Public needs better access to government rulemaking

  • A GAO study identified problems in electronic access to information about proposed federal agency rules, and recommends better use of a central Web site.

Oct. 24, 2003 — A General Accounting Office report to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs shows the type and amount of information the government makes available on the Internet varies significantly when agencies propose rules and seek public comment on the proposals.

The report, released to the public in mid-October, also illustrates problems in public access to both the proposals and the public comments made on them.

The committee asked the GAO to determine how well the public can use the Internet to identify proposed rules, comment on them, and access supporting documents and the comments of others. The study examined the information available on individual agency Web sites and on Regulations.gov, a site where people can find and submit comments on proposed regulations from multiple agencies.

The study focused on proposed regulations between Feb. 1, 2003, and April 30. More than half of those regulations came from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture.

According to the report, the EPA only posts about 20 percent of its proposed rules on its Web site, including only rules proposed by department headquarters, not those proposed by regional offices. DOT and USDA post most of their proposals on their Web sites, but most were difficult to find because they were posted on the home page of a particular agency within the department. Similarly, Regulations.gov included almost all proposals but was difficult to search because rules were listed by individual agency rather than department, according to the report.

Regulations.gov provided a vehicle for public comment on 91 percent of the rules proposed by all government agencies during the study period, while the agencies themselves provided for comment on only 66 percent of such rules. However, the study showed that use of Regulations.gov for comment was very low. According to the report, agencies did not link Regulations.gov as a resource on their Web sites, and those who typically comment are accustomed to using other methods.

The availability of supporting documents and other comments was mixed. Both the EPA and DOT Web sites provided such information, including the identities of those who publicly commented, but other department Web sites and Regulations.gov did not. Regulations.gov is scheduled to have such information by 2005.

The report concluded that Regulations.gov provides the public more consistent access to information than individual agency Web sites. It recommended some changes to Regulations.gov and that agencies provide links to Regulations.gov.

GP


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