Monday, February 11, 2013

GAO Report Released: Federal Rulemaking: Agencies Could Take Additional Steps to Respond to Public Comments

Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, titled Federal Rulemaking: Agencies Could Take Additional Steps to Respond to Public Comments GAO-13-21 (Dec. 20, 2012). The details of the 118-page report, available here, are discussed below:

Why GAO Did This Study

Agencies publish thousands of rules each year, with significant benefits and costs. Before issuing a final rule, agencies are generally required to publish an NPRM [notice of proposed rulemaking] in the Federal Register. Agencies must then respond to public comments when issuing final rules. Agencies may use exceptions in certain circumstances to forgo this NPRM process to expedite rulemaking. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has authority to provide guidance on regulatory issues. GAO was asked to provide information on the rulemaking process. This report addresses (1) how often agencies issued final rules without an NPRM; (2) which exceptions agencies used to do this; and (3) whether agencies took certain actions when issuing major rules without an NPRM, including voluntarily requesting and responding to public comments. GAO reviewed a generalizable random sample of 1,338 final rules published during calendar years 2003 through 2010. The sample contained rules by 52 agencies, including all cabinet departments issuing regulations. GAO completed more detailed analyses of 123 major rules without an NPRM, including every such rule published from 2007 through 2010, to obtain additional information to answer the objectives.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that OMB issue guidance to encourage agencies to respond to comments on final major rules, for which the agency has discretion, that are issued without a prior NPRM. OMB disagreed that guidance would offer substantial benefits. GAO believes the recommendation remains valid, as further discussed in the report.

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