Public Comments - The Whys and Hows

What is a Public Comment

Writing public comments on federal regulations can seem like a very daunting process. As federal agencies create rules, regulations, or adjustments to existing regulations, they are opened up for public comment. This time period allows experts and stakeholders (anyone in the public, nonprofits, experts, other federal agencies) - to submit information regarding the proposed rule or change. Comments are important because it presents evidence in support or against certain rules, and lets agencies know how those affected view the information. Substantive comments require a response from the agency.




Where To Look for Regulation?

www.regulations.gov is the federal register for regulations up for public comment. The site is searchable and can be filtered, which makes looking for new postings extremely easy! The difficult part is parsing through proposed changes to understand what is an important change versus what is a bureaucratic adjustment - but we are here to help!


Why are Public Comments Important?

This phase of regulation and rule proposal is important because it presents new data for the writers of regulation to review. It lets agencies understand how those affected by the regulation feel about it, and review unintended consequences. Day to day policy changes are made incrementally at the regulatory level, not in sweeping demands in tweets - so commenting on proposed rules is one way to ensure your voice is heard and your expertise taken into consideration.


How do I write a Comment?

When you find regulation that you want to comment on - it is best to keep your comment to a couple succinct points. Introduce yourself and your qualifications, thank them for reading your comment - pick two major points you want to highlight and introduce them right up front. Take some time in separate paragraphs to back up your two points with evidence (cited in short form). Take the last paragraph to summarize why that research either supports or refutes the regulation. Include long form citations at the end.


The website has a comment portal, but if the agency requests comment in a different forum it will be listed on the website. Already submitted comments are also viewable on the site so you can see how other experts or organizations are responding to the proposed regulation. If you are not yet ready to write your own comments, this is a good way to learn how to respond, write, and find which regulations are worth commenting on!


What Happens After I Comment

Agencies are required to respond to all comments and you can track via email notifications on the regulations.gov site to see any responses or additional materials added. Oftentimes presenting scientific data or impact information does push agencies to adjust their proposed rules and regulations. While this is the nitty gritty of public policy - it is a straightforward way to get your voice heard!


Another Resource:

https://publiccommentproject.org/ - has excellent templates and demonstrations for public comment, and a smaller portal for you to find regulations you care about! Check out their site for examples on how to draft effective comments.


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