Site operation and relation to the official rulemaking process
Q. Is this site connected with the federal government?
No. This site is built and operated by the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI), based at Cornell Law School. It is hosted by the Legal Information Institute. CeRI is a research group of Cornell faculty and students from law, conflict resolution, computing and information science, and the social sciences. We collaborate with federal agencies who share our interest in using the Web to improve federal regulatory policy making. CeRI works closely with the agencies whose rules appear here; they are actively participating in this research effort. But all materials on the site are prepared by, and are the full responsibility of, CeRI. No federal official or entity controls the content or operation of the site.
Q. Who writes the posts and explanations on Regulation Room?
The Issue Posts and other material explaining the proposed rule and the rulemaking process are written by the Regulation Room team of students and faculty working on the particular rule (unless a page expressly identifies some other author). The Issue Posts are based on the agency’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and the team tries to reflect the NPRM as accurately as possible, given our goal of making this material more accessible to people not familiar with the legal or technical aspects of the rulemaking. Typically, links to the relevant NPRM sections can be found in each of the Issue Posts.
Q. Will the agency see what I say here?
The agency will get a summary of all the discussion that gives as much detail as reasonably possible about what has been said. CeRI will also make available to the agency a file of the entire online discussion.
Of course, agency rule writers can decide to follow what’s being said on Regulation Room just like any other member of the public can.
Q. So, if I join the discussion here, am I “submitting comments” on the rule, as far as the agency is concerned?
We think the answer is, “It depends.”
The summary of the discussion will be sent to the agency before the end of the official public comment period. So, these will definitely be “comments” in the legal sense, and federal law requires the agency to read and consider them.
What’s in the file of the entire online discussion is probably not a comment in the legal sense, unless the agency decides to designate the discussion file part of the rulemaking “record.” (We say “probably” because open public online discussion is a new thing in federal rulemaking, and we don’t know of any statute or court decision that clearly decides this.)
If submitting a public comment, in the legal sense, is important to you, there’s an easy solution. Regulations.gov is the official web portal for submitting comments on all proposed federal rules. The official notice (NPRM) of every rule available on Regulation Room contains a link to the Regulations.gov comment submission form for the rule. Copy and paste what you say on Regulation Room into the “Public Comment or Submission” box on that form and follow the submission directions. You can submit as many comments on the rule as you want through Regulations.gov until the comment period set by the agency closes.
Q. Why would it matter to me whether what I say legally counts as a “public comment” on the rule?
It could matter if your interest in the rule is so great that you’d consider suing the agency if the final rule doesn’t come out the way you think it should. Some federal courts will not allow people to challenge a new rule unless they made their arguments to the agency first by submitting a public comment. So, basically, submitting your views directly to the agency through Regulations.gov preserves all your legal rights to complain about the final rule in court.
If what’s important to you is having your viewpoint and ideas considered as part of the final decision about the rule (rather than eventually maybe suing the agency), then taking active part in the discussion on this site is a good strategy. Since rules appear in Regulation Room because the agency and CeRI agree that online discussion could help the rulemaking process, it’s safe to assume that the agency will carefully read the discussion summaries that come out of this process.
Q. Will I have an opportunity to review and react to the summary of the discussion before it is submitted to the agency?
Yes, but the time period will be brief — probably less than a week. We will email registered users when the draft summary is posted, alerting them about the opportunity to review and react to the draft.
Q. I heard about a proposed rule but I don’t see it here. Why?
Federal agencies propose thousands of new rules each year. As an academic research group on a small budget, CeRI can offer only a few rules at a time on Regulation Room. Generally, rules are chosen because an agency with whom CeRI works suggests it as a good candidate, and CeRI researchers agree that offering the rule on Regulation Room is feasible and could advance our understanding of how to use the Web more effectively in rulemaking.
Q. What is your agreement with the agencies you work with?
To date, we have only worked with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Pre-publication access to the NPRM is essential to the project and that access occurs under a pledge of confidentiality that is part of a carefully negotiated Memorandum of Understanding between CeRI and each agency we work with. Under the MOUs, we also have access to the agency personnel actually working on the rule until the comment period formally begins. This lets us learn about the underlying regulatory program, ask questions about the NPRM (including what issues the agency anticipates to be most controversial), identify the range of stakeholder groups, and so forth.
Agencies considers contact during the comment period to be problematic under its internal ex parte contact policies. Therefore, we have no direct access to rulewriting personnel from the time the comment period opens until work on the rule has been finalized, although we can speak with our primary liaisons in the Office of the General Counsel as needed.
Q. Why can’t I just vote on the proposed rule?
Rulemaking is a policymaking process where voting, as such, doesn’t count. Unlike members of Congress or the President, federal agencies are not allowed to make decisions based on majority rule. Instead, they are supposed to use experience and expertise to come up with the overall best answer to the problems Congress has told them to solve. In other words, by law they must have good reasons, sound data, etc. for the regulations they finally decide on. The courts would invalidate any rule that an agency adopted just because a majority of commenters supported it. The kind of public participation that really matters in a rulemaking is comments where people explain not only what they think the agency should do, but why.
So, to answer your question, it’s not that comments count as votes — it’s that votes don’t count, and thoughtful comments do. One person with a really good idea can have more impact than 1,000 people who just give an unsupported opinion. For this reason, the poll on the homepage asks about what matters to you, not whether you are for or against something. It’s there largely to help people find their way to the issues that they really want to weigh in on.
The who and what of site moderation
Q. Who are the site moderators and what do they do?
The moderators are law students working under the close supervision and direction of senior CeRI researchers, who bring legal expertise and trained facilitation skills to the project. Occasionally, an outside professional facilitator with appropriate experience may join the moderator team. Meet the current CeRI researchers.
Site moderators prepare the issue posts, monitor compliance with the Site Use/Community Guidelines, and help prepare final summaries and reports. During the discussion, they may point users to additional information about the rule, pose questions designed to prompt fuller or more detailed discussion, and facilitate discussion between users with different views.
Q. Can the moderators remove something I submit?
Yes, if the content is inappropriate or clearly off-topic, or otherwise violates the Site Use/Community Guidelines in the Terms & Conditions. Depending on the problem, we may remove the submission entirely or modify it to deal with problem. Flagrant or repeated violations of the Terms & Conditions may cause us to ban you from the site. We will clearly indicate when material, or an entire submission, has been removed. Removed submissions can be viewed here.
We strongly encourage you not to include potentially sensitive personal information in your submissions. If we become aware of such information, we may take action to remove it to ensure that you have not revealed it inadvertently.
Site use tips and help
Q. How does this site work?
Each of the main pages in Regulation Room has a short video that explains what you can do and how to do it. If we haven’t covered something in the videos, please let us know.
Q. Do I have to register to use the site?
If you just want to read the site, no. If you want to make a comment, you must register with a username, password and email address. You’ll get the option of using either your username or your real name as publicly visible author’s name for content you submit. You can choose to provide a short bio and make it visible to other users who click on your author name.
A short questionnaire will appear the first time you wish to post a comment. The questions are designed to help us evaluate the effectiveness of the site and give the agency a more meaningful picture of the discussion.
Q. What will you do with my email address?
We will use it to provide password retrieval, notify you about new stages in the discussion, and ask you to complete a brief survey at the close of each rule. You will be able to opt out of receiving these emails. We will not sell or give your email to other organizations (including the agency.)
Q. How accessible is your site for users with disabilities?
The goal of the CeRI team is to make Regulation Room accessible to as many users as possible. In the Air Travel Accessibility rule, DOT proposed that air travel websites meet the accessibility standard WCAG 2.0 Conformance level “AA.” This means the web pages must satisfy the success criteria of both level “A” and “AA.” See WCAG 2.0 Overview. Our team worked hard to meet that standard for all Regulation Room pages involved in that rule. This is more challenging for our site than for an ordinary blog or discussion forum because of the innovative Digress-It technology that allows paragraph-specific commenting on text. Also, our posts deliberately provide many layers of information, so that users can go into the level of depth that matches their interest.
We value the feedback you can give us on the accessibility of Regulation Room. We’re doing a lot of technical testing (see Accessibility), but we recognize there are many issues about actual usability that automated testers cannot catch. We hope that you will contact us to tell us about your experience–positive and not so positive–with the site. Please note that pages associated with previous rules will not meet these standards. For research purposes, we preserve former rules in the format they appeared in during the rulemaking.
Q. Content on the site isn’t displaying properly. What’s up?
The problem might be on our end, but before you ask the Moderator or contact us, check your screen resolution. (To adjust this, click View on your browser toolbar and try Zoom Out. For the more technically inclined, the site is designed for a display of 1024×728 pixels or more.) The site works best with recent versions of Internet Explorer (especially 8 and 9; 7 is also supported), Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. If these suggestions don’t work, please contact us.
Q. How do I change my password?
You can change your password by going to your My Profile page; the link to your Profile is at the top of all the Regulation Room pages. In “My Profile” you can change “Your Info,” including selecting a new password. Just type the new password once in the top box and again in the second box and hit the “change password” button.
Q. Have a question we didn’t answer here?
Please contact us to tell us what else you’d like to know about Regulation Room.