A Prototype Study on Electronic Rulemaking

A Prototype Study on Electronic Rulemaking

Gloria T. Lau (Stanford University, USA) and Kincho H. Law (Stanford University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-947-2.ch207
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Abstract

The making of government regulations represents an important communication between the government and citizens. During the process of rulemaking, government agencies are required to inform and to invite the public to review the proposed rules. Interested and affected citizens participate by submitting comments accordingly. Electronic rulemaking, or e-rulemaking in short, redefines this process of rule drafting and commenting to effectively involve the public in the making of regulations. The goal of the e-rulemaking initiative is to integrate agency operations and technology investments; for instance, the electronic media, such as the Internet, is used as the means to provide a better environment for the public to comment on proposed rules and regulations. Based on the review of the received public comments, government agencies revise the proposed rules. With the proliferation of the Internet, it becomes a growing problem for government agencies to handle the comments submitted by the public. Large amounts of electronic data (i.e., the public comments) are easily generated, and they need to be reviewed and analyzed along with the drafted rules. As such, part of e-rulemaking involves a non-trivial task of sorting through a massive volume of electronically submitted textual comments. For example, the Federal Register (2003) documented a recent case where the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) received over 14,000 comments in seven months, majority of which are e-mails, on a flavored malt beverages proposal. The call for public comments by the TTB included the following statement: All comments posted on our Web site will show the name of the commenter but will not show street addresses, telephone numbers, or e-mail addresses. (2003, p. 67388) However, due to the “unusually large number of comments received,” the Bureau announced later that it is difficult to remove all street addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses “in a timely manner” (2003, p. 67388). Instead, concerned individuals are asked to submit a request for removal of address information as opposed to the original statement posted in the call for comments. The example shows that an effortless electronic comment submission process has turned into a huge data processing problem for government agencies. Fortunately, the advance in information and communication technology (ICT) can help alleviate some of the barriers in e-rulemaking. This article will discuss a prototype of a comment analysis system, which classifies public comments according to related provisions in the drafted regulations. The automated relatedness analysis system can potentially save rule makers significant amount of time in reviewing public comments in regard to different provisions in the drafted regulations.

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