Congressmen promote interactive rule-making

Congressmen promote interactive rule-making

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who has used interactive legislative methods, wants to examine whether regulatory agencies can adopt information technology to facilitate rule-making.

Lieberman (D-Conn.) and the General Accounting Office hold the Transportation Department's online Docket Management System (DMS), which went live in 1996 at www.dot.gov, as a model for interactive rule-making.

Lieberman, ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee, asked GAO to examine the interactive use of IT for rule-making. Earlier this summer, Lieberman, who has since become the Democratic candidate for vice president, launched a Web site with Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) to solicit public comments on legislation.

GAO is studying how five regulatory agencies use IT to cull public input for regulatory analysis and forming of rules. The agencies include the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor and Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

GAO plans to release the report early next year. It recently presented its preliminary findings to Waxman and Lieberman.

All five agencies use their Web sites to present rule-making information to the public, maintain some rule-making records in electronic form, and accept electronic comments for at least some rules, GAO found.

Specific features and uses, however, differed significantly. The rule-making information available on each agency's Web site varied.

Does one size fit all?

Some officials want to standardize the use of IT for rule-making, but a majority question the feasibility of that method because of divergent agency missions, and hardware and software disparities, GAO said.

Transportation saves $1 million in administrative costs annually using DMS, according to the department.

The system's Web interface was built using Visual Studio 5, and later, Version 6 from Microsoft Corp. and ColdFusion 4 from Allaire Corp. of Cambridge, Mass.

The Web interface, launched November 1997, runs under Microsoft Windows NT on a Web server, said Ron Kriegh, technical support manager for Signal Corp. of Fairfax, Va., which provides system support for DMS.

Data equivalent to about 1 million pages is stored in an Oracle8 database that runs under SunSoft Solaris on a Sun Microsystems Ultra 3000 server with four CPUs and 160G of online storage and 500G of optical storage.

Users can read reports with Adobe Acrobat Reader or view scanned reports as TIFFs.

The endeavor began in 1993, when the department conducted a feasibility study and submitted a budget request to consolidate nine docket offices'all in Washington'and automate the process.

The costs of consolidation and the systems totaled $3.5 million, said Patricia Prosperia, principal for information services for the Transportation Administrative Services Center. It would be cheaper to build today because less custom work would be necessary, she said.

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