With the introduction today of www.regulation.gov, the Bush administration is taking the first step to expand this budding interest in electronic rulemaking to the entire government and populace. The goal is to enable anyone with a computer and Internet access to find every federal regulation that is open for comment, read it and submit their views.
I like the sound of this. I think the internet offers many excellent opportunities for citizens to participate more directly in the political process. But there’s a problem. Consider this:
More than 4,000 new rules a year are churned out by some 160 federal agencies implementing laws passed by Congress. They cover many controversial topics, from the labeling of organic food and safety standards in the workplace to the allowable amount of contaminants such as arsenic in the water supply. Historically, the rulemaking process has been dominated by special-interest groups that have the money and the time to pay attention to the details of the proposals.
The new site is expected to be able to handle at least 2,000 users at a time, or 16,000 comments per hour. Users will be able to select an agency and a regulation by keyword. The rules that have that keyword in them — say, clean air — then pop up on the screen so the viewer can read them. Or, a user can type “all” and see all the regulatory proposals that might be open across the entire federal government. On Tuesday, there were 430 rules open for comment.
Tell me this: Who’s going to read, much less respond to, all these comments?