OIRA’s Guide Provides Agencies with Recommendations for Using Regulations.gov

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OIRA recommends that agencies promote public access by uploading rulemaking documents in a timely, consistent fashion.

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In an effort to promote the Obama Administration’s goal of increasing government transparency, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has provided agencies with a comprehensive guide for improving their electronic dockets.

The guide, released in November, 2010, outlines three strategic goals for the federal government’s online regulatory portal known as Regulations.gov: (1) increasing public access, (2) building a common taxonomy for different agencies’ materials, and (3) increasing agency contributions of their rulemaking materials.

To increase public access, the guide recommends that agencies use plain writing in their regulatory content, use a single docket to manage the full life cycle of a single regulatory action, and even use social media tools to engage the public.

According to OIRA, inaccurate and inconsistent labeling on Regulations.gov hampers users’ abilities to find agency documents. For example, agencies may categorize their documents into non-standardized “subtypes,” presenting “users with values that are duplicative, obsolete, and lack meaning.” To remedy this, the guide recommends standardizing labeling conventions and building a common taxonomy.

Some agencies do not maintain comprehensive electronic dockets or post materials to them in a timely manner. The availability of docket materials is sometimes inconsistent between agencies – even those housed within the same larger department. The guide calls on agencies to update data regularly, improve the exchange of data between different information systems, and ensure their paper and online dockets match.

Hurdles remain to widespread adoption of OIRA’s recommendations. Some agencies have been reluctant to respond to public comments in more than general terms. It is also unclear whether the momentum made on e-rulemaking in recent years will be able to withstand government budget cuts.