OpenRegs.com Challenges Government Info Clearinghouse

OpenRegs.com Challenges Government Info Clearinghouse
December 1, 2009

Regulations.gov, the federal government’s central clearinghouse for information about the hundreds of rules its agencies promulgate each year, is supposed to be the main gateway for citizen participation in the regulatory process.

Since its inception six years ago, however, the site has been criticized for its poor design and performance. It can be confusing and difficult to use for average citizens and experts alike.

A new site, OpenRegs.com, aims to provide serious private-sector competition.

OpenRegs.com is an easy-to-use alternative to the federal dockets database. The goal of the site is to make the proposed and final regulations published in the Federal Register each day easy to find and discuss, so that citizens can become better informed and more involved in the regulatory process. At the same time, the site’s developers—I am one of them—hope to demonstrate to the government’s Regulations.gov what’s possible with little investment.


Unique Features

OpenRegs.com has features not available anywhere else. These include the ability to browse by, and subscribe to, individual regulatory agency dockets and topics codes. Also available are discussion forums for each agency and each new regulation, user-submitted related links, and much more.

Regulations.gov recently redesigned the government site’s layout, and it now features streamlined search results and a search wizard, plus listings of the most popular and recently posted regulatory dockets. These are welcome additions, as are the RSS feeds for each agency and educational material about the regulatory process.


Problems with Government Site

However, the fundamental problems identified last year in an in-depth study by a distinguished panel of the American Bar Association’s Administrative Law Section remain.

For example, the lack of a systemwide metadata standard means any agency can add to the system as many data fields and document types as it likes. One agency’s “Meeting Notice” might be another agency’s “Meeting/Listening Session Notice,” and a user would have no way of knowing a search for one type of document might miss the other.

In fact, in addition to a “Meeting Notice” document type on Regulations.gov, there is a “Meeting notice” document type with a lowercase “n.” Each produces different search results.


Budget, Political Considerations

Addressing these fundamental problems will require a major overhaul of the federal docketing database, which is probably beyond the Regulations.gov team’s available options at this time for both budgetary and political reasons.

Until then, OpenRegs.com will provide a private-sector alternative. Not only will citizens be able to discover and get involved in the regulatory process, but they will also ask themselves why their government can’t provide a similar site.

Jerry Brito (jerry@brito.com) is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a co-developer of OpenRegs.com.