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United States

US Opens Portal for Online Comments on Regulations 127

Judg3 writes " My most recent newsletter from the Center for Democracy and Technology included a link to the newly unveiled Regulations.Gov site that allows individuals to more easily find and comment on proposed rules being considered by federal agencies. Comment on proposed rules ranging from the Secretary of Defense, Coast Guard, Veteran Affairs Admission, to even the Post Office." Here's a newsletter about the site.
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US Opens Portal for Online Comments on Regulations

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  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by slutdot ( 207042 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:52PM (#5152473)
    can't seem to find that Paypal link anywhere...
  • hm (Score:4, Funny)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:53PM (#5152481) Homepage Journal
    How long before someone whips up a perl script and starts crapflooding the Senate? We might finally get some decent legislation for a change.
    • Re:hm.... No (Score:3, Informative)

      by reallocate ( 142797 )
      The Senate and House aren't on the list. They're legislative, not regulatory, bodies.
    • How long before someone whips up a perl script and starts crapflooding the Senate?

      Since when do you need a Perl script for that?

    • Re:hm (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bicho ( 144895 )
      no, how long before it becomes a victim of the /. effect.

      Now seriously, How will they regulate non-national posts? (Just to clarify, Im not from the USA)
      Or how will they take a foreign opinion posted there?

      I mean, what would you think of foreign opinions
      ?. This is an, I would like to think a as, international site (/. , that is) and people from all the world can posts their meaning here.

      Just wondering.
      • I'm sure the same way that foreign governments would respond to the US making comments on regulations (which we do all the time). Not well.

        In all seriousness, unless the agency issuing the regulation requires some sort of declaration of residency in the Federal Register posting, then there's no way for them to tell where the comment came from. I guarantee that FR Notices will start carrying such requirements if it gets to be a problem. However, regulations are usually so narrow in scope that by their nature, only a few indoviduals will seek to comment before they're made final.
      • From the Privacy and Use page [regulations.gov]

        Comments may be submitted through this website, or by any method identified in the specific Federal Register notice. Any comment you provide through this website should be submitted in accordance with the directions in the Federal Register notice for the regulation you are commenting on. You should be aware that requirements for submitting comments may vary by agency, and some agencies impose special requirements for the submission of information, such as confidential business information or copyrighted works. For further information, follow directions in the specific Federal Register notice, or contact the specific agency directly.
    • oh, about 5 to 10...

      oops. I thought you asked, How long for...
  • by mmol_6453 ( 231450 ) <short.circuit@NOsPAM.mail.grnet.com> on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:54PM (#5152489) Homepage Journal
    Now we'll get Slashdot articles linking to places on regulations.gov, and we can make a difference.

    Although, I'm not sure what their incentive will be for listening to the public. They're insulated by two different elected branches of the government, and elections, while they happen once per year, are heavily influenced by people with money.

    Perhapse the solution would be to get a lot of people involved with it. Not just Techno-geeks, but old-time Ham enthusiasts and other occupation-specific people.
    • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:35PM (#5152774)
      I suspect they'll have the same incentive they have today to listen, which will be rather high if people start making the same case Congressional representatives and Senators. Trends -- many people saying the same thing over and over -- count much more than one brilliantly insightful email.

      Second point: Most people aren't "techno-geeks", so mail about issues near and dear to only those folks may have no more impact than mail from, say, orthodontists. Patient, polite and lay explanations explaining the technical holes in regulations impacting this industry, or illuminating unforseen damage to the public, are more likely to do some good.

      Third point: Pay attention to proposed regulation. Screaming bloody murder when the regulation comes into force is a bit late.

      Fourth point: People with money do influence who runs for office and how those candidates behave, but they still only have one vote. The real currency of politics is the vote. Geeks have all the tools at hand to create their own Internet-based voting bloc.
    • > Now we'll get Slashdot articles linking to places on regulations.gov, and we can make a difference. [emphasis poster's]

      Score: (+1/2, Would Have Been Plus One Funny If It Weren't So Damn Naive)

    • that's not the answer...

      You can get their attention and make them behave with one very simple thing....

      get people to get off their asses and vote. Example. My local city had their last election and voted in a mayor who is not listening to the poor or black needs, only the ultra rich and rich needs. there was a candidate that was PERFECT for the majority of the population yet she lost MASSIVELY... why? only 1% of the poor and black voted... the rich were out there in droves because the guy wanting to help the poor and minorities was going to tax the rich, make you pay extra to drive any car that cost more than $50,000.00 and charge luxury taxes on 3rd cars, 2nd boats and homes over 5000 square feet. I.E. make the rich tow their part of the line...

      if you want to change govt... get people to actually get off their ass and vote. Then you will have every politicians ear and they will listen very carefully.

      the rich run this country because they take the time to vote.
      • Hmmm, let's see now -- people didn't vote for a guy who wanted to cripple the local economy, thus making employers (and by extension jobs) move elsewhere, and you see this as hurting people who work? As for towing their part of the load, I would remind you that the top 25% of society pay 75% (!!!) of all income taxes. Sounds like more than a fair share to me...

        Where's your evidence for your claims about who did and didn't vote, anyway?

  • So now (Score:3, Funny)

    by DrFrasierCrane ( 609981 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:55PM (#5152495) Homepage
    Now all the newbies can send their comments on that "new regulation" where they're going to tax all E-mails sent over the Internet, right?
  • I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Telastyn ( 206146 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:55PM (#5152496)
    if they actually check the comments to see if they're made by American citizens... of course they can't really do that, because there's no guarantee an IP's location, and even if you could there's no guarantee an American IP has an American behind the keyboard.
    • You bring up and interesting thought...

      here is how I would handle it.

      Of course, you are going to have the fringe whack-jobs on either end of the spectrum, so maintain your focus on the middle path. Most people will be somewhere in the middle, and those are the people you are going to want to listen to.
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Funny)

      by ReelOddeeo ( 115880 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:10PM (#5152582)
      I wonder if they actually check the comments to see if they're made by American citizens

      You should have left off the last eight words.
      • Oh I don't need to wonder about that. I'm sure someone checks at least a few of them. I'm also sure that person has no influence what so ever over anything. :]
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by el_gregorio ( 579986 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:12PM (#5152601)
      But it's not a VOTE, it's a request for comments. Insightful comments could come from anyone, not just Americans. So filtering by location wouldn't really serve any purpose anyway; they're looking for interesting points of view, not just a tally of popular sentiment.
      • The point is that whatever they're looking for, they're just comments. They _are_ kept and they _are_ read, but it doesn't mean they _influence_ anything.
    • Once America dictates to the rest of the world that let it here at least some comments from the rest of the world.

      Seriously, I think they should create a moderation system similar to what Slashdot has implemented here. So, no matter what is your citizenship - your Karma is what's important.

      Let freedom of speech be independent from INS decisions!

      • > Seriously, I think they should create a moderation system similar to what Slashdot has implemented here. So, no matter what is your citizenship - your Karma is what's important.

        That's already been done. It's called "Karma: Lobbyist (mostly affected by donations to elected officials)".

        > Let freedom of speech be independent from INS decisions!

        That would imply INS makes decisions, which would in turn implies neural activity on the part of their employees.

        The proper response to that is "Objection: Facts assumed not in evidence."

  • sigh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zhevek ( 147623 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:55PM (#5152497) Homepage
    I guess this is needed since writing to elected officials only produces auto replies... so hopefully this does more to represent the will of the people.

    But the cynic in me thinks the millions that lobbys spend will cancel out any good this site does.
  • It's about time! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by goingincirclez ( 639915 ) <goingincirclez@m[ ]com ['sn.' in gap]> on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:56PM (#5152502)
    This is a small step in the right direction. On the other hand, I hope there are people on the other end actively taking the public's view into account, and not just shoving comments lacking $$$ contributions aside...

    It would be even better if there were a similar site for bills being considered. I did a keyword search for CBDTPA and got 0 results... hmmm.
    • This is a small step in the right direction. On the other hand, I hope there are people on the other end actively taking the public's view into account, and not just shoving comments lacking $$$ contributions aside...

      Well, is there a select box where you can pledge campaign contributions? :)

    • It would be even better if there were a similar site for bills being considered. I did a keyword search for CBDTPA and got 0 results... hmmm.

      I assume you used Thomas [loc.gov]? Try the full name (or even a subset). A search on "Consumer Broadband" brings up S.2048 as the #2 result.
    • The ability to electronically submit comments from a single website is new as well as the nice compilation of currently open comment periods, but otherwise this site is not really a big revolution or any indicator of a new form of representative government, nor is it providing information that wasn't already available online. If you check carefully, you'll find that this site is run by the EPA [epa.gov] (Environmental Protection Agency) in cooperation with the GPO [gpo.gov] (Government Printing Office) and NARA [archives.gov] (National Archives and Records Administation) among others. In particular the NARA has been the primary mechanism through which the public is informed of all these issues and comment periods.

      Access to all this information has already been publically available and searchable mostly through the online Office of the Federal Register [archives.gov]. They even run an open daily mailing list to inform the public about all the new documents. So this new website is really just an incremental improvement to their previous services and offerings.

      As far as all the questions about what happens to your comments, the fine print says it all:

      "The electronic comments you submit directly through the Regulations.gov website are temporarily maintained by EPA before being forwarded once per day to the proper agency. The agency receiving your comment is considered the official custodian of the comment. Your comment will not be considered until it has been properly received by that agency in accordance with the requirements described in the Federal Register notice. Users who want to verify that an agency has received their comment are urged to check directly with that agency."

      So really the only change going on here is that the EPA will deliver your comments rather than the USPS. The processing and reading of comments is still the responsibility of each individual department or agency, just as it was before. Usually all comments received during an open comment period are collected and summarized in the Federal Register at the end of the comment period.

      And as to the questions about why bills and other congresional items of interest seem to be missing, it should be noted that the Federal Register (the source of most of the information on the website) is primarily responsible for publishing documents from the various departments and agencies, as well as Public Law and Presidential Orders. A sizeable quantity of those documents are for proposed rules or notices, which by their nature invite public comment through a formalized process.

      Bills as such are not handled the same way as department or agency proposals are. The Congress gets it's public feedback directly from its members and their offices (or lobbists), not through a mandated formal public comment periods. Access to bills is primarily available through the GPO Catalog of Congress [gpo.gov], but you're on your own to get your comments back to them.
  • by doorbot.com ( 184378 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @02:56PM (#5152503) Journal
    There was a short article on SecurityFocus a few weeks ago... US lawmakers are requesting input from the community regarding "hacker" sentencing. Hopefully the deadline for submissions hasn't passed yet:

    online.securityfocus.com/news/2028 [securityfocus.com]

    Guidelines here:

    www.ussc.gov/FEDREG/fedr1202.htm [ussc.gov]
  • by randomkind ( 586417 ) <`moc.niardten' `ta' `ttocs'> on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:02PM (#5152531)
    The comment feature rules. Because you know how everything anybody ever posts on there will always be sagely reviewed and taken into the fullest of considerations. I'm thinking of quitting my job and just trolling and writing flames on there all day.
  • "As a member of the public, you can submit comments about these regulations, and have the Government take your views into account."

    And by "have the Government take your views into account," we mean 'watch them bounce off our foreheads.'
  • by dkone ( 457398 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:05PM (#5152555)
    Our company is in a very regulated field. We are directly regulated by 3 (state) government agencies and must be tested and certified by one. We constantly go to the physical 'comment on the regulation' meetings. In the 10 years I have been in this industry (underground tank installation, etc..) I have not seen one comment even considered by the agencies. They do what they want, end of story. I am sure that all those online comments will be directed to /dev/null.

    • I'm cynical too, but I remember several years back, when the powers-that-be were considering a batch of extremely onerous banking regulations. We still got unConstitutional regulations, but the regulatory agency backed off from the worst aspects of the proposed changes, because they got thousands of emails against the proposal, and very few for it.

      Of course we weren't "at war" then and so the government didn't have that excuse for ignoring the will of the people.

    • "Come here, cynical! Come on, boy, c'mon! Good cynical!"


      "Nothing is over until we say it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

    • I'm in a very heavily regulated field, too, exploration and mining. We deal with 16 state and federal agencies just to get exploration permits, but frequent writing to elected representatives, supporting friendly candidates during their election campaign, and testifying before committees has greatly facilitated the process, and helped us to get noticed. It's also helped to stifle, and even remove, the more petty bureaucrats.

      There is no excuse for NOT getting involved in the political process, and I am talking about way more than just voting or dashing off an email. And when a right or freedom is taken away, those who participated little or not at all cannot bitch. See 'The Little Red Hen'.

      Why Microsoft was right about Linux [xnewswire.com]

    • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:56PM (#5152890) Homepage Journal

      You've just discovered one of the most effective means of controlling a large group of people: Listen to them, but do as you please.

      Freedom of speech isn't defended because our government believes in the rights of the individual, but rather because it's an effective technique for diffusing the anger of the political minority. Remember the WTC protests? What about the peace protests? Did they change our foreign policy? Were they even considered?

      Has political protest ever made a difference in American policy? The short answer is no. Rather, allowing political speech is the means by which politicians keep us busy while they conduct business as usual.

      Historically, democracies have been ruled by the rich and popular. Historically, monarchies also have been ruled by the rich and popular. The difference? In democracies, the people believe that they are free; in monarchies, they know better...

      • allowing political speech is the means by which politicians keep us busy while they conduct business as usual. ... In democracies, the people believe that they are free; in monarchies, they know better...

        First of all, in a very direct sense, the monarch's subjects you describe only think they know better. I live in a US-style democracy (the US). If by some chance I find myself on national TV, I can say that the president should step down because his policies are destroying the country. I can say that and not fear for my life. In your monarchy, you'll wake up the next morning with your neck in a guillotine. That's freedom for you.

        Now, undoubtedly, the freedom of speech does have a great pacifying effect as you suggest. Personally, I think this would make a nice trade-off, since I can think or say what I want and not have to worry about the aforementioned guillotine. However, it is completely unreasonable to believe that the pacification is sufficient to exclude the entire populace from generating political force. The first bit of evidence is this whole voting thing, where people get together and exert definite political force. And don't give me any crap about how bad the electoral college is; it only screws up when the vote is very, very, very close, and it's only used in one election out of a shitload of others. The second point is that yeah, the politicians can do some shitty stuff behind closed doors, but if they get too far out of line, their asses are grass. Cases in point: Trent Lott, Ollie North, the Watergate people, Joseph McCarthy. Hrm, the freedom of the press figures in a lot of that, too. Put that in your queen and smoke it.

        What about the peace protests?

        I agree to a point. I doubt that many political protests have much direct force. Political protests do have indirect force, though. If it's a big enough issue, it plants thoughts in people's heads, whether the heads belong to regular people or politicians. Those thoughts get involved in other political activities, and that's where the effect. It's trickle-down, sure, but it's not zero. Ok, now for the other end: Non-political protests can work and do so very directly. Ever heard of a strike? When the employees don't work, business gets a shaft up the cornhole. It then becomes very economically feasible to negotiate directly with the protestors. Bam! Dez you direct effect. And if you know much about US history, you'll know that strikes now are much more effective and much less dangerous than they were, say, 100 years ago.

        And how does a monarchy fit into the freedom to protest? Think May 30th Incident, in China, in the early 20th century, when things were going crazy over in that quadrant. No, not the May 4th movement, that's a whole 'nother deal. the May 30th incident was a bunch o' Chinese sweatshop workers wanting a better deal, and they went on strike a couple of times. And who was it that started firing upon them with guns? Oh yeah, it was the British! Dez yo monarchy for ya. Put that in your queen and smoke it.

        • However, it is completely unreasonable to believe that the pacification is sufficient to exclude the entire populace from generating political force.

          I agree, but with a caveat. In democracies, there are generally large groups of voters who are indifferent to specific issues. As such, the true political power rests with those who can best persuade a fickle crowd. Say, for example, that you don't like the DMCA, and of those voters who have an opinion, 95% don't approve of it. But say only 5% of the voters have an opinion on the DMCA; this leaves us with 95% of the voting populace generally indifferent. The problem is that these voters make the decision about who gets elected. This is where money comes in - if an entity (person, corporation, or minority group), buys enough positive publicity for the candidate of their choice, the result is a situation in which the rich minority can effectively set policy for the poor majority.

          This is how "bad" laws get passed - corporations buy elected representatives by financing their campaigns. Because airtime is expensive, this leaves only the rich with the option of persuading the fickle masses. Hence, money is power, regardless of how "free" your speech may be. It's been said before - freedom of speech isn't the same as the right to buy newsprint.

  • by Ffynon ( 599139 ) <jake&jakewalker,com> on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:05PM (#5152559)
    The real question will be: do comments posted on a site like this, which make it easier for comments to be submitted, have the same weight as comments that are mailed in. Some agencies made it really difficul to comment, which meant that only people who cared enough to follow the directions, make 10 copies, and take a trip to the post office were able to comment. When it's this easy to submit feedback on legislation and policy, the tone and quality of the message may be significantly impacted.
  • The damn gov't can't even get eFiling [irs.gov] straightened out. Why should they venture into more eCrap. I tried to eFile yesterday and it is all crap. Why can't they just buy one of the software vendors and GIVE the software away for FREE? Whoops... that might take away some valuable tax revenue.

    Does anyone know of a good country to which I should move? I'm getting married soon and my wife-to-be and I have made the conscious decision that children are out of the question unless we find a legitimate country to live in.

    This sucks.
    • by JPelorat ( 5320 )
      Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

      Pick any country, cos by the sound of it, anywhere has to be better than the US in your mind.

      But if you're going to threaten it, do it. Don't be a Baldwin. And don't forget to renounce your citizenship while you're at it...
  • There was also an interesting article [washingtonpost.com] about this in the Washington Post's TechNews [technews.com] section yesterday.
  • by KimiDalamori ( 579444 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:10PM (#5152588)
    Let me guess: Step 1: Open a portal for comments from the public Step 2: Get massive amounts of Pr0n come-ons Step 3: Determine that the public wants viagra. Step 4: Get censored by Ashcroft. Step 5: Cat everything to /dev/null -+- SIGSEGV -+-
  • Hm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by tmasman ( 604942 )
    They already ignore my calls, emails, & letters...
    Now they can ignore my posts as well!

    As if they are actually going to do anything with this board... They'll have an auto-responder set up to make you think they read your post and that they actually care about the little people (ie the ones that don't fund their campaigning).

    Oh well...
    I'm sure some bafoon will think it's doing some good
  • I wonder if they are concerned with current events in Soviet Russia, or if "Natalie Portman" is a valid answer to "How do you feel about Veteran Affairs, and how should we appropriate tax dollars should increase veteran benefits?".
  • www.regulations.gov runs Windows 2000 [netcraft.com]

    The United States Government... Proudlt wasting tax payers $$ for over 200 years.

  • ...but now there's a government website where I can be ignored by professionals, 24/7! I'll never have to wander about looking for people to completely ignore me again! And look, every time I'm ignored I get this free docket id absolutely FREE!

    Incidentally, why does the Food & Drug Administration make regulations about pacemakers and medical X-rays?
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:15PM (#5152629) Journal
    Pretty much every response in this thread is 'they wont do anything', 'they'll just ignore suggestions' etc etc..

    This isn't the agencies themselves making a smoke-and-mirrors 'include the public' PR stunt, but a whole new agency which needs to show that it exists for a reason. So the new agency will pester the old agencies at our behest, and so far it's the best solution the public has.

    Sure, one suggestion from one geek means absolutely SHIT, not just to the government, but to anyone. But when enough people start saying the same things, it becomes a valid viewpoint. And if the public starts having things to say, perhaps the government will listen.

    Right now the only people speaking up are the vocal minorities. Hollywood elites like George Clooney can't keep their mouths shut, and actually presume they're speaking for all of america when they go off on some looney tangent.

    If nothing else, the public speaking out can perhaps drown out the lunatic fringe who are actually being heard in Congress.

    If someone said you should start going to the gym with him, you'd maybe ignore it. But if everyone you meet starts calling you Fatty Fatty Four-Eyes, you might reconsider that econo-sized bag of cheet-os for breakfast.

    So maybe this wont change the world, but so far whining as ACs on slashdot hasn't either.
  • Why build it when it's so much easier to make /. required reading?
  • by hfastedge ( 542013 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:17PM (#5152651) Homepage Journal
    I just navigated the site:

    Heres one for example:

    How to Comment: Submit a Comment on this Regulation
    Written comments (preferably in triplicate), regarding both the substantive aspects of the proposed rule and how it may be made easier to understand, may be submitted to the U.S. Customs Service, Office of Regulations and Rulings, Attention: Regulations Branch, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20229. Submitted comments may be inspected at the U.S. Customs Service, 799 9th Street, NW., Washington, DC.

    Heres a slightly less archaic link off that regulations.gov site

    Submit a Comment on this Regulation
    Comments should be submitted to Karen Walker, Chief, Retailer Management Branch, Benefit Redemption Division, Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, Virginia, 22302. Comments may also be datafaxed to the attention of Ms. Walker at (703) 305-1863, or by e-mail to karen.walker@fns.usda.gov. All written comments will be open for public inspection at the office of the Food and Nutrition Service during regular business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday) at 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, Virginia, Room 408.

    BUT im not trying to stir any emotions here, I think that this website will see all these out of date agencies work towards getting themselves fully online. AND hopefully recognizing a gnupg certificate with a high trust rating as BETTER than some bullshit signature on paper (+ the added costs of: snail mail (TTL of like 30 days) AND the time cost of going from print-> electronic (that is once it reaches the org after the snailmail)).

    I've had to deal with this bullcrap lately because of moving related circumstances....
  • by DonFinch ( 584056 ) <s2djfinc&vcu,edu> on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:20PM (#5152676)
    It has been many many years since any politians could be considered public servants. And government does very little to serve the "will of the people". And like was said before elections are heavily influenced by people with money, so my questios is why do we need congress? One of the ideas behind the body was that it would be too hard for everyone to get together and participate in governing themselves so we need a small group of elected people to do it for us. Well now electronically it would be a small matter for people to get involved and propose, debate and vote on new mandates. Granted there would be rampant security conscerns, but it could be dealt with. All that would be needed is a small elected body to control the website and make sure things runs smoothly. Of course to make these kinds of changes to the constitution would take an act of congress...and who's going to vote themselves out of the job? Oh well...I guess we live with misrepresentation and corruption.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "Well now electronically it would be a small matter for people to get involved and propose, debate and vote on new mandates."

      Democracy is simply a nicer word for Anarchy.

      In short, long live the Republic. I'd rather my rights be defended by congressmen who are bought and sold by media companies, rather than Suzy Q. Churchlady down the street.

      If you're required to have a good deal of popular support to hold a position of power, you can't run the risk of fucking things up quite as badly as an uninformed mob can.
    • And who would you elect to run this electrinic government infrastructure?
      • I would say that some unlucky citizen be picked at random. It is time that we spread around the graft. It is unfair that the same crokks get all the money year after year. It would also be more repensentative that the present system. Hell a random fool couldn't be any worse than what we have now.
    • We need congress to uphold the rule of law. If 9 out of 10 people vote to steal the 10th person's money, it is still wrong even though it won the "popular vote". A republic guards against that by making the legislatures responsible to their constituents. Despite your cynicism I believe our congress does more good than bad.

      Additionally, I would much rather elect people to take care of all of the mundane crap required to run a society. I don't have the time or patience to vote on every traffic law, building code, zoning regulation, etc.
    • We still need congress if for no other reason that the Constution forces it on our government. I think you would have a very hard time making a revision removing an entire article from that document. Even replaceing Congress with a small board that runs your new site would not work as it would still be controlled by those that run the website.

      More importantly, Congress serves as our public servants by being informed on the government process and moving it along as well. Do you really want to try to explain the US DoD budget to all ~250 million of us? What about the rest of the budget process? And what of daily housekeeping of the government? Do you expect/want to know about the boring technicalities of how our health care system works? Even if you do does the majority of the American public ? On a vast majority of issues that answer is NO. Congress for all its faults given its limited size it cant get too much out of hand. With 250 million making the decision we are paralized.

      Thirdly, the security concerns that you admit would run rampant in such a system would bring it all down. To have a vote system where just anyone from anywhere can vote directly influencing our policy would make every decision suspect. Not to mention take the republic away from the United States

      PFC Gruhn
      U.S. Army, Fort Lewis
      Serve and Sustain
      • And what of daily housekeeping of the government? Do you expect/want to know about the boring technicalities of how our health care system works? Even if you do
        does the majority of the American public ? On a vast majority of issues that answer is NO.

        Truer words were never spoken. Seriously, though, I'd have to agree with this comment. I certainly have no intention of spending all my time doing the duties of a professional lawmaker, and not getting paid for it. I'm not naive, either--I know that lawmakers can be bought, and I'm sure not all of them are as careful about their work as they probably should be. But does that mean I want their job? Of course, not!

        What scares me the most is that enough people may just want to do this, and chaos may ensue. Someone else in this thread proposed a brief questionnaire to test whether the voter is making an informed decision, but this brings with it a whole host of other concerns. Who's going to write the questions? What is considered an 'informed decision'? How does anyone really know the ramifications of a proposed piece of legislation before it's enacted? There are too many questions about such a system to suit my fancy. I don't know if mob rule would result from a more electronic democratic process, but I don't know if I'm ready to find out, either.

        The great potential of this site is that it allows one to focus on particular areas or issues that are important to them. Whether they are regulations on medical billing, national do not call lists, or what have you, it doesn't matter--I don't think anyone could or would want to comment on everything out there. Sure, some items are more sexy than others (highway regulations just don't get me up in the morning), but with enough eyeballs out there, I can't imagine that anything would go completely unnoticed.

        Finally, if any of you haven't read them yet, I recommend this series [economist.com] of Economist articles discussed in this Slashdot thread [slashdot.org].

    • And the average voter turnout in this counrty is what 30% 40%. So the people perticipating and governing would be the 30% that A. Cares B. is informed enough to perticipate. You could possibly ensure informed perticipation buy a short quiz before the vote. like "Do you know what this is" "What are the likely rammificats of a yay/ nay vote". if you get too many wrong, you are not allowed to vote on the issue until you are informed enough to make a choice. If you have to be active and are required to think, you will eliminate most mouth-breathing morons and knee-jerk reactioary types. menial beauracracy (zoning, parking rules) could still be handled by the appropriate agency. And if its too much work for you to participate, ok. No one's forcing you.
  • Use it! (Score:5, Informative)

    by sulli ( 195030 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:20PM (#5152685) Journal
    Comment on the proposed Do Not Call Registry. [regulations.gov] (I support it!)
    • All of the submit comments links I have tried just dump me back to the regulations.gov homepage. Were you able to get the link to really work? I got the impression some must be working as someone noted there was a 4,000 character limit.

    • FYI: the direct link is disabled. The heading is:


      and the subheading:

      SUBJECT: Common carrier services: Telephone Consumer Protection Act; implementation Unsolicited advertising

      CFR Citation: 47 CFR 64

      That should help you find it in the mess...

    • Re:Use it! (Score:2, Informative)

      by ch-chuck ( 9622 )
      FR Doc. 02-32649 appears to be "ACTION: Proposed rule; extension of time to file reply comments." You want "67 FR 62667, October 8, 2002) seeking comment on whether it should change its rules restricting telemarketing calls and facsimile advertisements. ", which isn't there to leave comments on. All you can comment on is extention of the time to file comments on a rule you can't comment on (on that website anyway).

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:22PM (#5152702) Homepage
    ...Something that could assemble stock phrases and paragraphs in different orders, so as to generate thousands of emails that all make the same point, but with creative variations in wording so that it doesn't look like an organized letter-writing campaign?

    With, of course, creative but convincing variations in the writer's name and email address.

    It shouldn't be much harder than Eliza, or one of those joke "buzzword generation" tables where you select a phrase from each of three columns....
    • I think you're interested in Nonsense [sourceforge.net]. Feed it the appropriate template, and it will generate a buttload of vaguely-unique complaint letters for you (or anything else, for that matter... some of the example templates that come with it make up dumb laws, college courses, and slashdot stories ;)

      It would be fairly trivial to put together a template that would generate a bunch of random sentences in random order that each explain,
  • If you combine last weeks story on suing annoying trolls [slashdot.org] with this story, it looks like we found a way to pay off the deficit, and possibly repeal income taxes.
  • So, now that the post office is not a government agency but is actually a privately held organization/business, how will the regulations for it change?
  • Not that I want to make a habit of multiple posting within a subject, but I just noticed this:

    From the site's Privacy & Usage page: "An interagency partnership, led by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in association with the Food and Drug Administration, the National Archives and Records Administration Office of the Federal Register, and the Government Printing Office, operates this website....

    "...The electronic comments you submit directly through the Regulations.gov website are temporarily maintained by EPA before being forwarded once per day to the proper agency. The agency receiving your comment is considered the official custodian of the comment. Your comment will not be considered until it has been properly received by that agency ..."

    WTF? They spent who knows how much taxpayer money to develop and implement a system for public comment, a system that can handle INSTANTANEOUS communication, that as such could expedite timely commentary and consensus...

    ...and decide to route EVERYTHING through the dang EPA (!), and withhold all public commentary for an entire DAY before sending it off to whom it was actually addressed via the website? Where it will no doubt languish further before actually being SEEN by someone knowledgable on the respective subject?

    Ya ya I know me complaining isn't going to do anything, and I still think it's a good idea. But goddammit! What the hell does the EPA have to do with most of these regulations? Who made them the comment-censoring police? And I can almost understand red tape being implemented retroactively, but what's with building it in - it makes a the site seem like a big honking red herring.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I actually work for one of the agencies in question, and we were similarly puzzled about the EPA's role, but evidently the they had the $$ to allocate and desire to deal with this. (Consider they do have some experience with regulations in general).

      I don't believe they are 'censoring' anything. AFAIK, they're just a central routing hub for the submissions.

      Also, plenty of systems store up data for a set period before processing it. You think anyone would read your instantaneous submission when you send it in at 3 AM?
  • Didnt we hear something on slashdot that said the congress didnt actually read any of their email? This just makes it easier to erase.
  • by bartolah ( 644481 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @03:46PM (#5152814) Homepage
    this is a fine idea in theory, in fact I rather like it. But it has two crippling flaws:

    1. you should be able to see other comments on the regulation, add to or detract from them, perhaps even vote on them. as of now - you submit and it goes, well, where? some inbox somewhere that's never checked?

    2. which leads me to number 2 - like sending mail to your congressman - there's no guarentee it's ever read. unless you're funding a campaign or cosying up to the regulator/agency in question - is your opinion even going to be looked at.

    Given those flaws very few people, probably thousands - but still few, will use this site. It could be done much better. But, like so many things the government does, it won't.

    • 1) This would just incite groupthink. One might not bother to post a comment if he notices 95% of the existing ones detract from his point of view. One might just reiterate the other views to 'fit in' with the crowd. An unpopular, yet equally valid, view might be shouted down and flamed into oblivion. Keep it anonymous. Anything I have to say to $AGENCY is between them and me, and noone else.

      2) if you just sit on your hands, there is a guarantee that noone will ever know what you think. Apathy doesn't change the system. Though, it probably will get read - depending on the validity of the comment, maybe several times.

      Congressmen/Agnecies do read email that might mean something to them. Though like the moderation system here, staffers definately sift through it and weed out all the -1:Trolls and -1:Redundants. You cant expect them to personally reply to every "j00 R TeH sUx0rz!!!" note they get. And every congressman/senator will do his job in his own way. Just like some celebrities read fanmail, while some could give a rats ass.

      I am positive, however, that an email/letter/phone call from a single constituent expressing his point of view carries more weight than a mass mailing or petition that reeks of agenda. That stuff just hits the trash can.
      • Good counter-points.

        In response to 1, I thought of that as I wrote it, and the system would need to be through through. Perhaps you couldn't respond to another's post, but you could see that it was posted and add your vote to it as it were, like a petition. There would be no apparatus to vote against.

        In response to 2, it would indeed be nice to have a way to track if your comment had been read, discussed, incorporated, what have you. Perhaps it could be like a read receipt? Just to know that your comment had been absorbed into the system.

        Having a system for comment on regulation is a huge step in bringing together people AND government - agreed.
    • You forgot a rather large flaw in this system, accountability. It appears that just about anyone from anywhere can submit a comment. Quite frankly, non-US citizens should not be allowed to post comments. Along these lines, there appears to be little in the way of methods to avoid abuse of the system by people submitting multiple comments under different pseudonyms. I have to identify myself when I vote, I see no reason why we shoudl not be required to identify ourselves when we comment on laws and regulations.

      Another shortcoming woudl be the ability to simply voice your opinion as to whether or not you think some of these regulations are good or bad. It would be nice to see some sort of polling system to determine the initial efficacy of the act. If 98% of 5000 people think the act is a bad idea, perhaps the act should be reviewed, even if nothing is ultimately changed.
      • Doesn't this same problem happen with democratic commentary today? Can't anyone simply pick up a phone from anywhere or fax an item or mail it in for that matter and offer their comments?

        Certainly this problem is a much broader one that effects all variety of public discourse - not only online.
      • What about all those abroad who are affected by US foriegn policy? How about the 1.5 million dead civilions who have died to to lack of medical aid and food due to the sanctions that have been in place against Iraq since Desert Storm? Or the Mexicans who aren't informed that they have a right to talk with reps from thier country before they are condemned to death on US soil? American policy affects just as many people living outside the US as it does those living inside, and in those cases I think they should be given the chance to be heard.
        • They elect leaders who appoint ambassadors who speak to the US concerning these issues, they do not get a direct line to our policy makers. Yes, this is over simplistic but it is the job of these countries leaders and policy makers to work these issues out.
  • a good idea, but... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tusixoh ( 561920 )
    not surprisingly, i couldn't find any where to comment about the DMCA or anything even remotely related..
  • It seems to me that one cannot view other submitted comments. How is this going to reflect on their accountability?

    It seems like a noble gesture but unless they post the comments how is somebody else able to see another's view point? This would be useful for building up information and one-stepping-up existing comments and information.

    And how do we know the comments don't go straight to /dev/null unless they are posted. It would be interesting to see of comments on the proposed changes to the Privacy Act, tho a little offtopic.

  • I checked out the FAA section and the very last bit of proposed rulemaking was one whereby the FAA would suspend an Airmen Certificate if the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) deemed that person to be a security threat. And once again under the current regime, it is guilty until proved innocent. Once you have been listed as a security threat, you have to prove that you are not to get your certificate back. They do not have to prove that you are indeed a security threat, only that you are suspected of being such.

    And just what constitutes someone as a security threat? Why the TSA says so, thats what. This is one that I think needs some deserved comments.

  • Open Source the Law (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gnaythan1 ( 214245 )
    Okay, not exactly, but think about this. The basic linchpin of the open source movement, is the fact that many eyes make shallow flaws. To put it another way, if ten thousand people are pouring over the codes... ONE of them is bound to find the bug, and come up with a way to fix it. If enough people do this, it becomes very likely that we target and exterminate every single flaw in the code.

    Extrapolate that into bills put up for review. Publish the bill on the internet, and encourage everyone interested to pour over the document with a magnifying glass, comment on any percieved flaws, and make suggestions to fix them. Log every comment to a public document, and let everyone have a look, and a say. Make those logs, in themselves, a legal document, every change watermarked by date, time and individual, not to be tampered with later, so people can say "I told you so".

    Just like with an open source project, some people end up being very articulate, insightful, and handy, while others proudly display that the ability to type and to think are not always in synch with each other. There should be some method for people to moderate the comments, so that the cream rises to the top.

    It becomes the congressmans ( project leader's) job to sift through the mountain of comments, and comments about comments, and glean the good from the bad. He then takes those comments and revises the proposed bill.

    This new way of creating a bill may end up with a hundred drafts, or even a thousand drafts, before it reaches the floor to be voted on.

    The benifit is simple, and follows the same linchpin. If ten thousand eyes are pouring over the proposed law, it's a good bet SOMEONE spots, explains, and proposes a fix for the loophole, or unintended consequence. And, if every proposed bill has to be made available for public scrutiny, it becomes very hard to pull a fast one.

    Rules would have to be made on things like how long must a proposal be made available, exactly how this is to be accomplished, how and where is the log archived, format, protocals, etc... I'm thinking a six month period where every law undergoes this scrutiny, and if the congressman wants to, it can be extended another six months.
  • A great day (Score:4, Funny)

    by t0ny ( 590331 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @04:28PM (#5153125)
    I can see it now...

    d00d, j0r l3gizla7ur 1z j0k3. R3pub71cans 0wn j00!!!


    Trent Lott

  • site runs IIS 5.0 / w2k [netcraft.com].

    holding up okay against ./ effect !


  • Why is the US Gov using such a lame method?
    They should be using a more successful model like
    running their own blogs. Or better yet, contract
    with /. so we can have more favorable mods.
  • Now what I'm wondering is if this will be a self-selecting method for fuzzy-logic programs the federal government keeps hyping to identify people who oppose certain vaguely-terrorist-related legislation and policies.

    Makes you wonder - if it's out there and on a public government site, sure seems open to that level of scrutiny.
  • No FTC listing (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I notice the FTC is not on the list, so there goes any possibility of finding out what kind of SPAM laws there are, or new ones being proposed.

    This site is so incomplete and sparse, that I hardly think it's of much use.

  • From my 2600 member DoWire e-list on politics and technology: http://e-democracy.org/do

    Some Clift Notes Suggestions

    A couple of quick suggestions, the Topical Guide to Regulations and Services should be a profile link from the home page. It is much more than a Related Link. I'd also change the phrase "Search Open Regs" to "List Proposed Regs" that is what what clicking there conveniently does. On the home page, unless you read the full text at right you wouldn't know that the selection tools on the top banner will list proposed regulations - I thought was getting access to existing regulations. I'd switch "Find Regulations" to "List Proposed Regs" and simply say "Search Proposed Regulations" for the search option.

    Now my main "what's next" suggestions:

    1. What's Popular - Ensure that site usage creates automatic pathways to "What's Popular" lists for all users.

    If X proposal is generating high amounts of aggregate traffic or a daily or weekly surge in new traffic, use that data to generate dynamic directories _across the whole of government_ to the information most people are looking for that day/week/year.

    This is already being done by the excellent Department of Transportation e-rulemaking web site: http://dms.dot.gov/reports/topdock_rpt.htm This is how people find good shareware all the time: http://download.com.com/3101-2001-0-1.html And how we know what is hot on Yahoo News: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=index2&cid=1 046

    Comment statistics should also generate a public display listing the proposed regulations receiving the most frequent comments.

    2. Public e-access to public e-comments - I understand that this is a future goal of this effort. I don't know if this is written down anywhere, but key government officials have indicated to me this is a goal.

    This is huge. For the first time the business of interest group influence on proposed regulations will gain _timely_ transparency. For the first time across government (the DOT system allows you to see comments already), official decision-making process will have an online interface that will allow the public to then further comment on other public submissions. Let's help the government do this right and then share this version of highly structured online consultation with governments around the country/world.

    3. What's New - Personalization and e-mail notification are the most politically powerful tools available for e-government today. Notification doesn't change what information becomes public, so this is more a technical choice.

    Information only has value in the political process if you know about it when it can be used to influence a decision, a decision-maker, or the public. It should be a fundamental right of all Americans to track a set of keywords, agencies, or other factors and be notified via e-mail when something of likely interest is newly available on Regulations.gov.

    There could be volume restrictions per user to balance the server demand and provide equitable service. This would prevent putting put all the "value-added" commercial tracking services the big lobby groups use from going out of business. Those businesses will politically stop anything that provides too much convenience to those who are willing and able to pay big bucks for any political advantage.

    If the UK government can use these tools, why not us? http://www.info4local.gov.uk/emailalert.asp Also, check out the features of these sites: http://www.itpapers.com and http://www.bitpipe.com

    End of my main comments ...

    Folks at CDT also have comments on what they would like to see next: http://www.cdt.org/publications/pp_9.03.shtml

    Here is the a news item from the Washington Post on this: U.S. Opens Online Portal to Rulemaking Web Site Invites Wider Participation in the Regulatory Process http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A304 69-2003Jan22.html Can anyone find a press release online about the new site?

    Something related: Congress Plans to Slash E-Gov Funding http://dc.internet.com/news/article.php/1573661 (Adding more e-regulation features will cost money, hey Congress, help us out here and invest in your own online public services as well.)

    A number of very recent articles and presentations by the number one academic e-rulemaking guru, Stuart Shulman: http://www.drake.edu/artsci/faculty/sshulman/NSF/r esearch.htm

    For commentary on rules, regulatory reform in general: http://www.ombwatch.org/regs http://www.ncseonline.org/nle/crsreports/risk/rsk- 3.cfm

    Past DO-WIRE posts on e-rulemaking:
    http://www.mail-archive.com/do-wire @tc.umn.edu/msg 00515.html
    http://www.mail-archive.com/do-wire@tc .umn.edu/msg 00586.html
    http://mail.tc.umn.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=i nd0205&L=do- wire&P=R273

    Steven Clift
    Democracies Online
  • a couple points (Score:3, Insightful)

    by odin53 ( 207172 ) on Friday January 24, 2003 @06:30PM (#5153847)
    First, this site is for federal regulations: rules promulgated by federal agencies that have been given power by Congress to pass these kinds of rules. These aren't laws passed by Congress, so you won't be seeing the DMCA on it. (But yes, these are laws in the sense that they have the force of law; you have to follow them.)

    Second, federal agencies to some extent already do this, and it works. My experience is with the SEC, which is admittedly always pretty on the ball for a government agency. For many years, the SEC has had an RFC procedure for its proposed rules. (In the past decade or so, it has accepted comments electronically.) It solicits comments for a period of time, and then publishes them all. For the most part, law firms, accountants, companies, and academics will respond, but it's not uncommon to get comments from random unidentified people that aren't practicing lawyers, accountants, etc. Usually, and naturally, comments from the public are a lot more practical and a lot easier to understand, and yes, the SEC will consider them too (sometimes the SEC, in later releases, will quote the commenter, and more than a few times where Joe Shmoe gets a quote -- I suppose it's because they want individual investor perspectives, but rarely get them, so they get excited when one actually writes in).
  • ...regulations prevent us from deep linking. Sorry.
  • Now if they can only run fiber lines to all our houses, using some new encrypted Ethernet structure... and give us all implants that act as biometric IDs for internet access... and all kinds of other scary things... Then we can vote online! Yay! ... I'm starting to think I don't want that anymore. Hrmph.

I'm always looking for a new idea that will be more productive than its cost. -- David Rockefeller