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Rulemaking transparency via websites needs improvement says study
WASHIINGTON (8/24/11)--Eighty-nine federal agency websites, including that of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), were recently ranked in a study of how effective the sponsoring agency is in their efforts to use electronic media, such as websites and social media, to provide information on their rulemaking processes. “Federal Agency Use of Electronic Media in the Rulemaking Process,” by Cary Coglianese of the University of Pennsylvania, was commissioned by the Administrative Conference of the U.S. (ACUS). In a nutshell, the study found that many agencies are missing the mark when it comes to effective electronic communications. For instance, the study found that a mere 14% of the most frequent rule-writing agencies host a Web page that displays all the rules that currently are open for public comment. Only 30%, the study found, contain a link dedicated to soliciting public comments. Also notable according to the study report was that agency websites had infrequent links to Regulations.gov, the government-sponsored online source for regulations from nearly 300 federal agencies, or to other regulatory information. This finding, the report said, shows virtually no improvement from results of an earlier study executed in 2005. Under Coglianese’s ranking system, a federal agency’s electronic media use could earn a maximum score of 49 points across three categories: general characteristics (up to 11 points), specific features related to rulemaking (up to 25 points), and visible use of social media (up to 13 points). A study disclaimer notes: (A) higher score does not necessarily mean a website is “better” in some absolute sense, as some of the coded features may not serve all agencies’ purposes equally well. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration came in with the highest cumulative score with a 27. The NCUA placed seven spots below with a 20. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) works to recommend best practices to federal agencies regarding their websites on rulemaking. CUNA has recommended, for instance, that the NCUA work to improve access to regulatory information on its website. In a 2011 Regulatory Review comment letter, CUNA noted that “the notice for the Regulatory Review is difficult to find on NCUA's website. As a result, we are not certain whether very many credit unions are aware that the Regulatory Review is underway and that they can comment.” CUNA said it would be beneficial to credit unions if NCUA provided a report on its website each year on how it plans to address the recommendations it receives through this regulatory review comment process and a summary of the recommendations it did not pursue.” The study recommends certain best practices regarding agency websites on rulemaking. Administrative agencies should:
* Manage their use of the Internet with rulemaking participation by the general public in mind; * Provide a one-stop location on their home pages for all rulemakings currently open for comment; * Consider, in appropriate rulemakings, retaining facilitator services to manage discussion with respect to the rulemaking on social media sites; * Strive further to improve the accessibility of their websites to all members of the public (including non-English, low bandwidth, and disability access); * Display comment policies in accessible locations or provide links to the comment policy in multiple, accessible locations, especially on webpages that elicit comments from the public; * Develop systematic protocols for the retrieval of old material online; and, * Conduct ongoing evaluations of their use of the Internet against the goals of e-rulemaking.
Use the resource link below for more on the University of Pennsylvania study.
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