New “Submit a Formal Comment” Feature!
We’re excited to announce the release of our newest feature – the ability to comment on a document without leaving FederalRegister.gov. We’ve been working with the team at Regulations.gov to make this possible and are excited to share it with you all.
Previously, whenever you clicked the ‘Submit a Formal Comment’ button on a document we would send you to the Regulations.gov site to complete your comment. Now, when you click that button we will load the comment form from Regulations.gov and present it to you in the context of the document. Working together with Regulations.gov we are seeking to expand your access to the rulemaking process and we believe this is the logical next step in this process.
With the launch of this new feature we also wanted to provide a brief overview of how the commenting process works. Before we jump into the details, here’s a brief summary.
The commenting process allows the public to take part in the rulemaking process – however the agencies assessment of these comments is not simply a count of how many for and how many against. FederalRegister.gov now provides not only the ability to comment directly from FederalRegister.gov but also the ability to be notified when your comment is publically available and to receive notifications when future documents mention the document you commented on, helping you stay informed throughout the process. The Office of the Federal Register serves as the publisher for other agencies rulemaking documents and as such cannot provide guidance on substantive questions about a document.
The Federal Rulemaking Process
The Federal Register plays an important role in the Federal rulemaking process but that role is limited. The Office of the Federal Register (OFR) serves as the publisher for other agencies rulemaking actions. In this role, OFR does not and cannot answer substantive questions about a document published in the Federal Register. Our role is to ensure that documents are published timely and accurately such that the public can participate in the rulemaking process.
A Federal agency can begin the rulemaking process for any number of reasons, including: receiving a petition from an individual, interest group, or industry group; pro-actively reviewing its own regulations; or being ordered to by a court decision.
The rulemaking process can start in a number of different places – including but not limited to – a request for information, asking for comments on a petition submitted to the agency, and the publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
Most Executive branch agencies will accept comments via email or on Regulations.gov – and, with the launch of our new commenting feature, through FederalRegister.gov (where we send the comments to Regulations.gov on your behalf). As part of the rulemaking process, they will use Regulations.gov to manage the information within a docket. Some agencies will also add any comment they receive via email to that docket so that anyone interested can see the complete collection of public comments.
Not all agencies use Regulations.gov, but for those that do, they include the docket number in the document they give us to publish and we use the Regulations.gov API to load the information related to that docket on FederalRegister.gov (including the comment form we now present to users).
FederalRegister.gov does not collect or manage any comments. When you submit a comment from our new commenting feature, we send that information onto Regulations.gov via their API and do not store the comment on our site. If you are a registered MyFR user, we store your comment tracking number for your convenience (but none of the information contained within your comment).
Once a comment is submitted to an agency, staff at that agency will review each comment for any personally identifying information (such as social security numbers) and for any inappropriate language. Agencies may choose to not make such comments publically viewable or may choose to redact information as needed. Depending on agency policies, submitted comments may be approved in an ongoing, ‘rolling’ basis or all together at the end of the comment period. If you created a comment via FederalRegister.gov and choose to be notified when your comment is publically available, you will receive an email when this takes place on Regulations.gov.
While agencies must assess and respond to substantive comments they receive through the rulemaking process, the assessment is not simply how many for and how many against. Agencies will review any new issues raised and respond to substantive comments often grouped by concern. Their responses most often appear in the final rule or, if appropriate, in a supplemental NPRM.
If new issues are raised that the agency thinks important, the agency can issue a supplemental NPRM, incorporating those issues and asking for more comments. The agency could also decide to not proceed with the rulemaking at all. If they decide not to continue, they may take no action or they may publish a document in the Federal Register formally withdrawing the proposal. These are all agency decisions that the Office of the Federal Register is not a part of.
Because of the fluidity of the rulemaking process, each step may take a different amount of time and steps may be repeated. As a result, it can be difficult to know when follow-on documents are going to be published. Part of our new feature launch includes the ability to choose to be notified when a future document mentions the document you commented on. This subscription can be managed just like all your subscriptions on FederalRegister.gov and you can choose to stop receiving these notifications at any time.
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