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Federal Docket Management System expands public access, improves eRulemaking procedures for agencies

WHAT: The Interagency e-Rulemaking Program, including leading federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Department.

MISSION: Develop an electronic document repository that lets agency and department officials post all rulemaking and nonrulemaking documents and lets the public view, download and comment on the documents.

CHALLENGE: Before the 2005 launch of the Federal Docket Management System ' a cornerstone of the Regulations.gov Web site ' it was virtually impossible for someone to easily navigate federal regulatory activities. There were more than 60 e-rulemaking departments, and agencies had their own processes for handling regulatory documents.

SOLUTION: Interagency collaboration resulted in the development of FDMS. The Environmental Protection Agency's docket management system was selected as the model. The enhanced system expanded public access to information and improved how agencies manage the rulemaking process on Regulations.gov.

IMPACT: As of August, there were 150 million hits on the FDMS/Regulations.gov Web site. Between September 2005 and September 2007 more than 112,000 public comments were posted. Twenty-seven agencies have successfully migrated to FDMS, putting
82 percent of all federal regulations online for public access and comment. FDMS also gives agencies a more standardized and uniform process for e-rulemaking and handling and posting documents to Regulations.gov. Regulations.gov.

ALL TOGETHER: EPA's John Moses says you can't overstate the collaboration that went into FDMS.

Zaid Hamid

CONSENSUS TAKERS: The EPA team helped get other agencies on board.

You might say Regulations.gov is like a modern-day town hall meeting. That's the way Molly O'Neill, assistant administrator and chief information officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, describes the government Web site.

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Regulations.gov encourages public participation in the federal rulemaking process, allowing people to view and comment on regulations and other actions by federal agencies.

[IMGCAP(1)]'Citizens can go directly to this site and, at any time, comment on regulations,' she said. 'It really promotes citizen access.'

The eRulemaking Program, an interagency initiative led by EPA, launched Regulations.gov in early 2003 to give people a place to learn about proposed regulations and have their comments shape the rulemaking process.

Before the development of the Web site, it was virtually impossible for someone to navigate the maze of federal regulatory activities, said John Moses, chief of EPA's eRulemaking Program Branch at the Office of Information Collection and Environmental Information.

In 2005, the program greatly expanded public access to information and improved how agencies manage the rulemaking process on Regulations.gov with the launch of the Federal Docket Management System.

[IMGCAP(2)]FDMS is an electronic document repository that lets agency and department officials post all rulemaking and nonrulemaking documents, such as Federal
Register notices, supporting analyses and comments. Users can view, download and comment on documents.

Additionally, the public can sign up for e-mail notifications as documents are added to the system. FDMS also offers advanced search capabilities, a reporting feature to compile statistics on rulemaking and a customizable comment form so agencies can ask the public specific questions.

Agencies have their own accounts on FDMS, to which they can securely log on to post information, Moses said. 'It's an electronic library with workflow inside of it,' he said. 'It's a vessel for [agencies] to interact with the public. [FDMS] stores the material but also facilitates the public being able to provide input.'

Twenty-seven federal agencies have fully migrated to FDMS, said Wendy Liberante, portfolio and policy analyst at the Office of Management and Budget's office of e-government. That means 82 percent of federal regulations are now posted on Regulations.gov, she said.

There have been 150 million cumulative hits on FDMS/Regulations.gov as of early August, compared to 54 million hits through May 2006, said Kevin Neyland, deputy administrator at OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Page views have also increased from 13 million May 2006 to 51 million cumulative hits as of this August, he said.

More than 112,000 comments were posted between September 2005 and September 2007, he added.

The eRulemaking Program is a collaborative effort of about two-dozen core agencies, including the Defense Department. Membership in the program includes all cabinet departments and several major independent agencies.

EPA took the reins of Regulations.gov from the Transportation Department five years ago, said Mark Luttner, director of EPA's office of information collection and environmental information.

In those early days, about 15 of the agencies participating in the program had electronic docket systems, Luttner said. The program directors had an independent assessment done on all the systems to find a model for Regulations.gov. EPA's system, called E-Docket, was selected and became the basis for FDMS. EPA had the model system, so the agency was asked to take the lead in managing the project.

Early challenges

With dozens of partners working to establish Regulations.gov, managing the project was a challenge, Luttner said. EPA had to set up an organization to coordinate and work with all the partner agencies nationwide, he said. There are hundreds of federal agencies that can do rulemaking.

Another challenge was funding, as eRulemaking directors had to make sure they had sufficient resources to get the job done.

Finding consensus on the project often was difficult. There were many legal, technical, policy and governance issues that the partners had to resolve, Luttner said. 'Personality issues, budget snafus and problems with appropriations are good examples of the many types of challenges.'

'But it also shows that these kinds of projects can be done successfully, too,' O'Neill said. 'While there are challenges, there are also opportunities.'
This actually can work once agencies understand the challenges they face, she added.

'I think people will always wind up saying that this is really good government for the citizens, so let's figure out a way to put our differences aside.' Luttner said.

OMB played a role in mediating when differences arose. 'They did not weigh in really that much, but when we needed them to resolve an issue, they were helpful in doing that,' Luttner said.

For example, the partners wrangled over the architectural options or ways to develop a docket management system. OMB helped with the analysis provided to the executives on the eRulemaking governance committee.

'They didn't direct the governance committee by any stretch; however, they helped make sure the information and the understanding of different options were carefully presented and considered by the governance body,' who then decided how to develop the docket management system, Luttner said.

Lockheed Martin is the lead integrator, helping develop the technology and provide the technical support for the application. EPA is hosting FDMS at the agency's national computing center in North Carolina.

FDMS uses Documentum's metadata and file system to retrieve data from its repository. The system is based on Oracle 9i and 10g components.
In a recent analysis of the design and management of FDMS, the Government Accountability Office found that the eRulemaking program fulfilled 28 out of 30 key management practices.

You can't overstate 'the amount of cooperation and collaboration that has resulted in the success of this program and initiative,' Moses said. 'If we didn't have partners believing in the mis- sion, in the system ' and actually designing, developing and using it ' you wouldn't have this success.'

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