Rebooting Regulations.gov

We’ve been talking about Regulations.gov for quite a while- both the good and the bad. While the website’s goal to centralize the federal system for public comment and make it easier to use, is laudable- the site has lagged in usability. The site serves as the public face of federal rulemaking, but hasn’t really made it easier for the public to find or comment on the rulemaking processes. Hopefully, the discussion on the new Regulations Exchange are evidence that this will soon be changing.

The Regulations Exchange launched on May 21st, along with other open government projects. The site has not garnered the public’s attention like the Open Government Brainstorm website; it’s simply not as sexy a topic. I will note that the last four days, if published reports are accurate, have seen almost three thousand comments in four topic areas, hardly a lackluster showing. However, the structure of the Exchange and the kinds of comments that they are getting may make this discussion a much more fruitful one. In addition, they have a two-month window for users to discuss and give suggestions, giving users time to read others’ suggestions and reply thoughtfully.

The Regulations.gov team is actively facilitating the discussion rather than the idea submission and the “up-or-down vote” feature at Open Government Brainstorm. Since the Exchange gives users a set of questions to answer- what new features do you want, what do you think of our redesign, what RSS feeds do you want, how would you like to customize your Regulations.gov portal- users have a better chance to give the team there concrete and usable ideas as they move forward with Regulations.gov. By asking users the questions that they are most interested in hearing about, participating in the discussion themselves, and giving users a long time frame to discuss, the team is getting a much more interesting set of ideas. For example, the RSS discussion has quite a few interesting uses of the feeds suggested- many of which we would love to see implemented.

We are especially happy to see top-level discussion devoted to data access- both via download and RSS feeds. Data access has been a longstanding issue with the site, one that third parties (like OpenRegulations.org and OpenRegs.com) have tried to address through workarounds. Starting with feeds from each agency, and for topic areas, a great deal of information will become available and make it much easier for the Regulations.gov team, as well as third parties, to make useful tools.

And interestingly, they’re taking comments on the redesign of Regulations.gov, and making changes based on user suggestions and ideas. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that exactly the spirit of e-rulemaking? By that measure, we may really be seeing the future of e-Rulemaking in the discussion threads at the Regulations Exchange.

We would like to commend the Regulations.gov team for creating a useful conversation around improving the federal e-Rulemaking portal, and we hope that you go join the conversation. I know that after reading all the comments there, I will be putting in my two cents.

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