DOT e-rulemaking pilot project encounters minor glitch

The Transportation Department kicked off the third round of its Regulation Room e-rulemaking crowdsourcing demonstration project this week even though users can not yet access the website.

The most recent project involves a proposed rule published in the Federal Register on Jan. 31 that would require interstate truck and bus companies to install recording devices on board to track their drivers’ hours of service.

The Transportation Department’s third round of experimentation in e-rulemaking got started with a minor glitch this week because the crowdsourcing website it uses isn't operating.

The Regulation Room open government e-rulemaking pilot program is jointly sponsored by DOT and Cornell University, which runs the website.

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A Jan. 31 news release directed interested parties to the Regulation Room website, which isn't operational. A message on the site states that it will begin operating on Feb. 4.

Bill Adams, a DOT spokesman, said publicity and outreach efforts for Regulation Room for the people affected by the new trucking proposal will begin in a few days, so the website downtime is not a major concern.

“Clearly, it is not ideal, but the decision was made that the population affected by the rule would not necessarily be reading the proposed rule in the Federal Register. There will be a major effort to reach the population,” Adams said.

It is the third round of crowdsourcing for Regulation Room, which in 2010 hosted public discussions on banning texting by truckers and on new requirements for airlines to disclose all baggage fees, among other provisions.

The application allows users to comment and ask questions about a rulemaking proposal. After a specified period of time, researchers synthesize the comments and discussions into a draft document, which is then published online for additional comment. The final group comment document is submitted to the department as an official comment.

In two previous proposed rulemakings, it was found that about 95 percent of the comments generated on Regulation Room were from individuals commenting on DOT rules for the first time, Adams said.

The project seeks to attract new users to e-rulemaking with colorful graphics and summaries.

“With Regulation Room, we are trying to make commenting on regulation more palatable,” Adams said. “There are graphics, issue summaries and hot links to the regulation itself to make it easier for first-time users to read and understand.”

Publicizing Regulation Room via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, advocacy groups and other media is a critical step in attracting people to the website, Adams said. At the same time, the outreach efforts for Regulation Room are resource-intensive and not intended for every rule, Adams said.

“One of the main benefits is being able to bring more of the public into rulemaking. We do a lot of cross-posting on blogs, Facebook, and other media. Still, most of the spikes in traffic occur when there is a mention of the site on traditional media, such as articles in the Washington Post or USA Today.”

The site began in April 2010 with an invitation to comment on a proposed ban on texting by commercial truckers. A second round of discussions started in June 2010 about a proposed rule that would require airlines to increase compensation to passengers bumped from flights, stop charging fees for canceling reservations within 24 hours of a flight, and disclose baggage fees.

The open government project is meant to complement, which offers visitors an opportunity to submit written comments. The public also may comment on proposed regulations by mail.