Increasing Public Participation in the Ongoing Review of Regulations
HHS intends to increase the breadth and quality of public participation in its rulemaking and retrospective review activities. Consistent with this goal, HHS published a notice soliciting preliminary comment on certain elements HHS should consider in drafting this plan and additional public comment on the complete HHS Preliminary Plan. A summary of comments submitted in response to the requests for comment on elements to be considered in drafting the plan are at Appendix B and on the complete HHS Preliminary Plan are at Appendix C.
All HHS agencies already reach out in various ways to obtain public input and advice on regulations subject to review and modification. For example, as one of the major HHS regulatory agencies, FDA sends bi-annual letters to state and local elected government officials asking for suggestions on its regulatory activities and posts them on its website. FDA also issues a bi-annual letter for small business entities, by posting it on the FDA website and sending it to the Small Business Administration for distribution to the small business community. These two letters highlight upcoming regulations that FDA believes may have an impact on these two groups. Additionally, as part of its Transparency Initiative, FDA recently established a new webpage specifically devoted to its regulatory review activities.
HHS intends to increase its efforts to promote and develop meaningful public participation. As an initial matter, HHS will establish a Public Participation Task Force including the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA) along with its Director of the Web Communications Division, the Chief Information Officer, the General Counsel’s Office, and the Chief Technology Officer, chaired by the Deputy Executive Secretary. The Task Force will explore ways to increase interactivity in the public comment process with respect to regulatory review and ongoing regulatory activity, including the use of podcasts, webinars, video teleconference sessions, Wikis, YouTube and other social media. Some HHS agencies already use these technologies to great advantage. Other agencies can usefully enhance the regulatory review and development process by increasing use of these technologies. With the advice and assistance of the HHS CIO and CTO, the Department will identify and develop these and other online capabilities for the public to be involved in evaluating regulations over time. The Public Participation Task Force will pay particular attention to increasing the diversity of participation and improving the ability of persons with limited English proficiency or disabilities through podcasts and other vehicles to participate in the regulations review and development process. The Public Participation Task Force will report its recommendations to the Deputy Secretary by March 31, 2012.
Additionally, HHS will ask the Public Participation Task Force to work with agencies to develop a set of principles geared toward increased public participation and transparency in the ongoing review of regulations throughout the Department. These principles will help agencies think about innovative ways to involve interested parties in the retrospective review process so they can more easily react to and benefit from the comments, arguments, and information of others as they refine their own comments. Among the principles to be considered are:
- Active engagement with thought-leaders through meetings and sponsored listening sessions on specific regulatory reform proposals. Thought-leaders might include the regulated community, affected groups, academics, and public interest groups, as well as state, local, and tribal government leaders.
- Real-time access to information for the public and business community so they can provide more immediate, real-time feedback to the agency on specific regulatory actions.
- Involve outside groups who may have not been included in past regulatory review activities through the Offices of External Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs and other HHS offices to increase the level and diversity of public participation.
- Explore possible collaboration with the Cornell University e-Rulemaking initiative whereby Cornell students and faculty host an interactive blog for public participation and comment on proposed rules. The Department of Transportation is already involved in this initiative.