Electronic Rulemaking:

Progress Made in Developing Centralized E-Rulemaking System

GAO-05-777: Published: Sep 9, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 11, 2005.

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Mathew J. Scire
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The E-Government Act of 2002 requires regulatory agencies, to the extent practicable, to ensure there is a Web site the public can use to comment on the numerous proposed regulations that affect them. To accomplish this, the Office of Management and Budget named the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the managing partner for developing a governmentwide e-Rulemaking system that the public can use for these purposes. Issues GAO was asked to address include: (1) EPA's basis for selecting a centralized system, (2) how EPA collaborated with other agencies and agency views of that collaboration, and (3) whether EPA used key management practices when developing the system.

E-Rulemaking officials and the e-Rulemaking Initiative Executive Committee considered three alternative designs and chose to implement a centralized e-Rulemaking system based on cost savings, risks, and security. Officials relied on an analysis of the three alternatives using two cost and risk assessment models and a comparison of the alternatives to industry best practices. Prior to completing this analysis, officials estimated the centralized approach would save about $94 million over 3 years. They said when they developed this estimate, there was a lack of published information about costs related to paper or electronic rulemaking systems. They used their professional judgment and information about costs for developing and operating EPA's paper and electronic systems, among other things, to develop the estimate. E-Rulemaking officials extensively collaborated with rulemaking agencies and most officials at the agencies we contacted thought the collaboration was effective. E-Rulemaking officials created a governance structure that included an executive committee, advisory board, and individual work groups that discussed how to develop the e-Rulemaking system. We contacted 14 of the 27 agencies serving on the advisory board and most felt their suggestions affected the system development process. Agency officials offered several examples to support their views, such as how their recommendations for changes to the system's design were incorporated. While managing the development of the centralized system, e-Rulemaking officials followed all but a few of the key practices for successfully managing an initiative. For example, officials did not have written agreements with participating agencies that included system performance measures. The first agencies began migrating to the centralized system in May 2005 with the public scheduled to have access in September 2005. Eventually, all rulemaking agencies will migrate to the centralized system; however, the schedule is tentative due in part to funding issues. As agencies migrate, e-Rulemaking officials are planning changes to the system including adding capabilities that exist in electronic systems operated by some agencies.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA's response to Congress was dated July 25, 2006, and we received a copy in August 2006. Per the response, EPA agreed with the recommendation. Once the performance measures are developed, EPA will include them in the annual agreements between the e-Rulemaking Initiative and the participating agencies. The letter did not include an estimated completion date. As of September 14, 2006, our liaison at EPA was trying to obtain an estimated completion date. After contacting EPA on January 23, 2007, and February 23, 2007, EPA promised to send information documenting the steps it had taken to implement the recommendation. We received the information on March 12, 2007. The information provided did not indicate that EPA implemented GAO's recommendation. EPA provided copies of the annual agreements for a few agencies and said the language in agreements with other agencies was very similar. The annual agreements did not include performance measures. The agreements stated that EPA would establish performance measures. We contacted EPA again on August 6, 2007, requesting an update, but EPA did not respond. On March 4, 2008, we contacted an official in the e-Rulemaking Program Branch, Office of Information Collection, Office of Environmental Information and requested an update of actions taken by EPA to address the recommendation included in GAO-05-777. He provided an example of the written agreements between EPA and the participating agencies which were used for fiscal year 2008. The agreement includes a section that outlines goals which will be achieved by implementing a range of performance measures related to technology, processes and activities, customer results, and mission and business results. The agreement provides details about each of these performance measures. For example, the Program Management Office (EPA - the managing partner of the e-Rulemaking initiative) will ensure that the system is available to the public and federal agencies 99.9 percent of the time. This measure includes a formula for determining the amount of time the system is available to the public and federal agencies. The 2008 agreements are different than the agreements used in the past. The 2008 agreements list specific performance measures and provide details. The older agreements did not include performance measures - they just stated that the managing partner (EPA) would establish performance measures.

    Recommendation: E-Rulemaking officials established a governance structure that allowed it to successfully collaborate with other agencies about how to develop and implement the centralized e-Rulemaking system and used most of the key practices included in this report for managing an initiative. To learn from how it managed this initiative and to build on the success of it, the Administrator of EPA, as managing partner of this initiative, should take steps to ensure that the written agreements between EPA and the participating agencies include performance measures that address issues such as system performance, maintenance, and cost savings. These measures are necessary to provide criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of the e-Rulemaking initiative as well as for determining if the initiative is operating in the most efficient and economical manner.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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