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Social Media and Public Comments in Rulemaking

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Social media is playing an increasing role in how the government interacts with citizens. Just take a look at the number of comments members of Congress receive via platforms like Twitter or Facebook, or look to the amount of interaction in the "Ask Me Anything" discussion President Barack Obama held on Reddit. How can social media can be used to facilitate public comment in the rulemaking process? An ongoing project to discover its pros and cons is being run by the Administrative Conference of the United States' (ACUS) Committee on Rulemaking. The group, along with consultant Michael Herz, is looking into legal and policy challenges to using social media in rulemaking, with the aim of identifying ways to resolve some of those obstacles. Another goal is to encourage "appropriate and innovative ways to use social media to facilitate broader, more meaningful public participation in rulemaking activities."

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Keeping Track of Federal Agencies

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The Unified Agenda, a list of all the rules federal agencies expect to issue in the upcoming year, was published online this past spring in a new format, in accordance to a new White House directive. We reviewed the Agenda to identify steps each executive branch agency is taking to promote transparency, and the status of the action. Department of Defense:

  • Cost and Software Data Reporting - This rule amended the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) to address requirements for DoD contractors to establish and maintain a cost and software data reporting process under contracts for major defense acquisition - Final Rule, 11/24/10.
  • Freedom of Information Act Program Regulation: To ensure appropriate agency disclosure - Final Action proposed for 6/11 (no action taken since 2010).
  • Government Support Contractor Access to Technical Data: certain types of Government support contractors to have access to proprietary technical data belonging to prime contractors and other third parties, provided that the technical data owner may require the support contractor to execute a non-disclosure agreement having certain restrictions and remedies - Interim Rule, Comments Due by 5/2/11, Final Action proposed for 8/11.
  • Electronic Order Procedures - DOD makes orders available online so that contracts can be issued in an electronic format. Reports must be filed in an electronic format. Final Rule, effective 5/5/11.
Department of Energy:
  • Freedom of Information Act Regulations - DOE is revising its FOIA regulations to reflect current procedures for processing requests for information that are submitted to the Agency, to ensure compliance with the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, and to make the regulation more user friendly. - Proposed for 6/11, no action taken since 2008.
Department of Health and Human Services:
  • Third Party Auditing - FDA will allow third party entities to conduct food safety audits. The regulation attempts to include protections for disclosure of conflicts of interest when third party entities review third party companies - Proposed Rule Stage
  • Transparency Reporting - health insurance plans will be required to make information on claims payment policies, the number of claims denied, data on rating practices and other information as determined by the Secretary available to the public, per regulations in the Affordable Health Care Act - Proposed Rule Stage
Department of Homeland Security:
  • Self imposed restrictions on lobbying - Establishes procedures concerning general prohibitions on lobbying and the use of certain appropriated funds, and the appropriate penalties for violations of those prohibitions. The purpose of the procedures is to ensure that neither the recipients of appropriated funds, nor the employees of DHS inappropriately solicit for action by the Congress. - No final rule issued, comment period closed in 2003.
  • Supplementary Ethical Standards - Two significant areas to be addressed by the supplemental regulation are outside employment and the prohibited purchase of Government-owned, seized, or forfeited property by DHS employees. - Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last issued 12/10.
  • Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Procedures - This action will amend FOIA regulations including provisions governing information subject to Privacy Act exemptions and procedures for verification of the identity persons under the Privacy Act. - No action taken since 2003.
Department of Justice Department of Labor
  • Whistleblower Protections - OSHA will establish protections, burdens of proof, and standard practices and protections for whistleblowers according to new authority in Dodd/Frank bill - Final Rule-making Stage, 9/11.
  • Right to Know under Fair Labor Standards Act - Will update the record-keeping regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to enhance the transparency and disclosure to workers of their status - Proposed Rule Stage 10/11.

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