Responding to traditional notice-and-comment rulemaking required by the Administrative Procedure Act takes a substantial amount of effort for both the agency and submitters. For each rulemaking, the agency must address hundreds and sometimes thousands of comments submitted by the public to determine if the comment is substantive and whether the comment is the same or similar to that of other submissions. Typically comments are either submitted on letterhead via postal mail or alternatively as word processor documents submitted through Regulations.gov.
Some agencies have attempted to streamline this laborious review process by initiating work assignments with consulting firms to analyze the comments and use software to parse letters eliminating greeting and return address lines. Hiring outside parties to analyze comments submitted to the agency is costly, unnecessary, time consuming and a significant administrative burden. There is a better way.
Agencies should begin taking comment on specific facets of the rulemaking through electronic submission using Regulations.gov and web form fields. Proposed rule preambles ask specific questions and soliciting comments; responses submitted to specific questions in form fields will allow the agency to easily parse comments submitted by the public on specific issues where the agency desires comment.
An open free form field (‘catch all’) can be included for specific comments not captured through the form fields. Further, to ensure open access and handicap §508 compliance comments may still be submitted via paper means. If paper submitters wish to submit responsive comments they should include key question titles we are looking to address. This will enable text recognition software to later parse the document.
Resulting response to comment documents can be produced more quickly and ensure complete responsiveness to comments submitted, streamlining the process, saving money and improving efficiency.