Make Your Voice Heard on Regulations.gov

Give the government a piece of your mind (politely).

Colored Comment Bubbles on Blue Background

One way to be an engaged citizen is to comment on pending U.S. government regulations related to issues that are important to you. It may be easier than you think.

The idea for this post came to me while I was watching a Presidents’ Day mattress sale commercial sandwiched between television segments of the Winter Olympic Games. I thought, “Geez, nowadays, we commemorate the birthday of our founding father with discounts on mattresses.” “Surely, we can honor George Washington in a more suitable way.”

George Washington dedicated most of his life fighting for, establishing, and protecting many of the freedoms Americans enjoy today. He embodied government for the people and by the people. When I think of George Washington, the Bill of Rights First Amendment immediately comes to mind.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” —United States Constitution Bill of Rights First Amendment

There are many ways that you can exercise your right to freedom of speech and share your thoughts and opinions with your elected officials and with government agencies including calling, writing, and emailing, attending town hall meetings and events, voting, participating in public demonstrations, and being active on social media.

Another important but perhaps not well-known avenue of communication is Regulations.gov. This website makes it easy for you to obtain information about pending regulations (also called rules) and then comment on them before they are finalized.

Until a few years ago, I had never heard of Regulations.gov so I decided to celebrate George Washington’s birthday this year by spreading the word.

E-Government Act of 2002

In 2002, Congress passed the E-Government Act to bring the federal government into the Internet age.

“To enhance the management and promotion of electronic Government services and processes by establishing a Federal Chief Information Officer within the Office of Management and Budget, and by establishing a broad framework of measures that require using Internet-based information technology to enhance citizen access to Government information and services, and for other purposes.” —Public Law 107-347, 107th Congress

Regulations.gov is the Internet interface for the eRulemaking Program, which is just one of many E-Government initiatives, set in motion by the passage of the law.

Rulemaking Process

Rulemaking is the process used by almost 300 federal agencies to issue regulations for laws enacted by Congress. Congress decides what needs to be accomplished and the affected agencies determine how to do it.

During the rulemaking process, the agency gathers information, prepares a draft rule and supporting documentation, and publishes it in the Federal Register and on Regulations.gov.

The public then has an opportunity to review the information and comment on it within a specific period, often ranging from 30 to 60 days. Sometimes the comment period is extended or re-opened. Comments and documentation submitted by the public are considered during the decision making process. The final rule is published in the Federal Register along with the date it will go into effect.

If you are interested in learning more about the Federal Register or the Rulemaking process, there are links in the resources section below.

Regulations.gov

On the Regulations.gov website, you can browse pending rules to determine if there is something you want to comment on, but chances are you will become aware of an important issue from other sources like news reports, social media postings, people you know, newsletters, and heads up emails from organizations you trust. Keep your eyes and ears alert for terms like pending regulation, proposed rule, and rulemaking.

On your first visit to Regulations.gov, I suggest you dink around a bit to familiarize yourself with the site. For instance, clicking the “Learn” tab will take you to a page that provides an overview of the regulatory process and you can click on a link to learn about the eRulemaking Initiative. The “Help” tab houses tips on how to use the site, FAQs, and a glossary section, which I think is helpful for understanding terms. For instance, every rule has a docket ID that is essentially the file name of the electronic folder for the rule.

To find a specific rule from the “Home” page, you can either type a docket ID, agency name, or keyword into the search window or click on the “Browse” tab.

When you land on the docket home page, you will find a summary, supporting documents, important dates, contact information, and a “Comment Now!” button. If you have not previously had the opportunity to read the specifics of the issue, this is a good place to do it.

Making a Comment

When you are ready to enter your comment, click on the “Comment Now!” button. Type your comment into the window, include your name if you want, and attach documents that support your comment (if you have any). You will have an opportunity to review and edit your comment before submitting it.

Every comment is assigned a unique number and you can request to have it emailed to you. Depending on how many public comments are being submitted and processed, your comment may not immediately show up in the comments section on Regulations.gov.

The example below is my public comment regarding the federal government’s intent to expand offshore oil and gas exploration, which you have likely heard or read about in the past several weeks.

Regulations.gov Comment Example

If you would like to join me in opposing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, click on the following link Docket ID: BOEM-2017-0074, which will take you directly to the docket page. Then click the “Comment Now! button” to make your comment.

If your interest lies in another area such as education, agriculture, healthcare, transportation, or _____ that is okay. Select a different docket and submit a comment.

You have the right and the power to be an engaged citizen. Submitting public comments on Regulations.gov is just one way to do it.

Of course, I have no way of knowing what George Washington would think about Regulations.gov, but I hope he would approve.

Featured Image at Top: Colored Comment Bubbles on Blue Background – Photo Credit iStock/BrianAJackson

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

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