EPA launches rule-making site

The administration took a step toward its goal of establishing a single place for citizens to comment on proposed federal regulations last month with the launch of www.regulations.gov.

The effort shows what can be done in a short time when agencies share technology, said Oscar Morales, director of the Online Rule-making project. He took over the project in October when the Office of Management and Budget shifted it to the Environmental Protection Agency from the Transportation Department.

OMB and Transportation originally had planned to launch the site in September, but load-testing problems forced a delay. OMB then expected to launch the site in December, but software problems needed fixing.

'We couldn't get the number of concurrent users over 50, so we had to switch directions,' an OMB official said. 'The current site pushed the testing tools to their limit, and we can now have 2,000 concurrent users and 16,000 users an hour.'

The site lets citizens view and comment on proposed rules, and search dockets by agency or keyword. Comment forms also are tailored to agency requirements, Morales said.

But before the site went live, it went through three iterations. The first prototype proved too complex for users, and the second had the load-testing problems, Morales said.

Third time's a charm

OMB settled on expanding EPA's system after an independent evaluation of existing federal rule-making systems. The project team started piecing the system together with existing components from the earlier site versions and programs in use at other agencies.

In two months, project managers redesigned the rule-making portal with components from four agencies. The Government Printing Office and the National Archives and Records Administration supplied the front end, which lets users find proposed and final rules. EPA and the Food and Drug Administration put together the back end, which lets users send comments to the proposing agency, Morales said.

The front end is written in ColdFusion from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco and stores the rules in a Microsoft SQL Server database, Morales said. The NARA application pulls the dockets from the GPO site via File Transfer Protocol into the database, which formats the information for user comments.

Project managers modified the FDA comment system, which e-mails the comments back with a specific identifier to agencies with rule-making sites. Those agencies that do not have electronic systems receive faxes or comments through postal mail, Morales said.

Morales said EPA's data center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., houses the system and stores comments for backup.

The entire project and maintenance through Sept. 30 for it will cost less than $200,000, Morales said.

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