E-rulemaking dies from lack of funding

Wouldn't a standardized Web-based system for public comments on federal rules be a good idea? That's the Federal Docket Management System. But OMB thinks it deeply misguided and Congress is ready to pull the plug.

After a hard day's work, there nothing like coming home and curling up with 15,000 documents posted by 150 federal agencies at the new Federal Docket Management System website. The Bush administration has been working hard to implement an electronic docket system to facilitate comments, viewing and retrieval of  regulatory proceedings of more than 30 federal agencies. This access, traditionally dominated by special interests, is hoped to revolutionize the rulemaking process but the initiative has run into a number of serious roadblocks, reports the Washington Post.

 

"Many aspects of this initiative are fundamentally flawed, contradict underlying program statutory requirements and have stifled innovation by forcing conformity to an arbitrary government standard," an OMB report said. The subcommittee said the initiative "forced" agencies to transfer funds into projects that appropriators hadn't specifically approved.

"We have always been skeptical of it," said John Scofield , spokesman for the full Appropriations Committee, speaking of "e-government" in general. "You are standardizing and imposing a one-size-fits-all [system] on agencies that have vastly different missions and objectives."

 

If  you don't want it to work, it won't, says Cary Coglianese , chairman of the Regulatory Policy Program at Harvard.

 

 "Lacking clear authority, a strong institutional base and adequate funding, an effort to unify regulatory dockets across dozens of major agencies is bound to be difficult, if not come up quite short," Coglianese said.

 

Now Congress is shutting off funding until OMB delivers a reasonable funding plan, which they seem unenthusiastic about doing:

After squabbling with the Office of Management and Budget for several years, a House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the White House office shut off the spigot. It said in a report that the OMB couldn't require agencies to contribute toward building the Web site until it submitted an "operating plan" detailing the funding for some 24 government-wide electronic initiatives, including the e-rulemaking site.

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