Making Effective Comments on Regulations.gov

Tips For Submitting Effective Comments on regulations.gov – Jan 2018

It’s not just what you say but very much how you say it that leaves an impression. The best ideas can be lost if wrapped in too many words and convoluted language.

A comment can express simple support or dissent for a regulatory action.

However, a constructive, information-rich comment that clearly communicates and supports its claims is more likely to have an impact on regulatory decision making.  

Summary

  • Read and understand the regulatory document you are commenting on
  • Feel free to reach out to the agency with questions   
  • Be concise but support your claims   
  • Base your justification on sound reasoning, scientific evidence, and/or how you will be impacted
  • Address trade-offs and opposing views in your comment
  • There is no minimum or maximum length for an effective comment  
  • The comment process is not a vote – one well supported comment is often more influential than a thousand form letters

Detailed Recommendations

Comment periods close at 11:59 eastern time on the date comments are due – begin work well before the deadline.

Attempt to fully understand each issue; if you have questions or do not understand a part of the regulatory document, you may ask for help from the agency contact listed in the document.

Clearly identify the issues within the regulatory action on which you are commenting.
If you are commenting on a particular word, phrase or sentence, provide the page number, column, and paragraph citation from the federal register document.

If a rule raises many issues, do not feel obligated to comment on every one – select those issues that concern and affect you the most and/or you understand the best.

Agencies often ask specific questions or raise issues in rulemaking proposals on subjects where they are actively looking for more information. While the agency will still accept comments on any part of the proposed regulation, please keep these questions and issues in mind while formulating your comment.

Although agencies receive and appreciate all comments, constructive comments (either positive or negative) are the most likely to have an influence.

If you disagree with a proposed action, suggest an alternative (including not regulating at all) and include an explanation and/or analysis of how the alternative might meet the same objective or be more effective.

The comment process is not a vote. The government is attempting to formulate the best policy, so when crafting a comment it is important that you adequately explain the reasoning behind your position.

Identify credentials and experience that may distinguish your comments from others. If you   are commenting in an area in which you have relevant personal or professional experience   (i.e., scientist, attorney, fisherman, businessman, etc.) say so.

Agency reviewers look for sound science and reasoning in the comments they receive. When possible, support your comment with substantive data, facts, and/or expert opinions.
You may also provide personal experience in your comment, as may be appropriate. By supporting your arguments well you are more likely to influence the agency decision making.

This sounds almost like a joke when the anti-opioid zealots argue their point without facts all the time. When a link is given to concrete data, it’s always long outdated.  

Consider including examples of how the proposed rule would impact you negatively or positively.

Include the pros and cons and trade-offs of your position and explain them. Your position   could consider other points of view, and respond to them with facts and sound reasoning.

Keep a copy of your comment in a separate file!

This point is critical (and valid for all online writing) because it’s very easy to run into some glitch in the process, either your own (hitting <return> before ready) or the website’s (doesn’t tell you it’s an invalid response until after submitted) or network problems that lose your text during transmission.

– this practice helps ensure that you will not lose your comment if you have a problem submitting it using the Regulations.gov web form.

Form Letters

Organizations often encourage their members to submit form letters designed to address issues common to their membership.

Organizations including industry associations, labor unions, and conservation groups sometimes use form letters to voice their opposition or support of a proposed rulemaking.

Many in the public mistakenly believe that their submitted form letter constitutes a “vote” regarding the issues concerning them.

Although public support or opposition may help guide important public policies, agencies make determinations for a proposed action based on sound reasoning and scientific evidence rather than a majority of votes.

If this were true, we wouldn’t be having the issue we’re commenting on.

A single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters.

This has always been my suspicion.

Imagine you’re the person who has to read through these hundreds and thousands of comments. A form letter quickly becomes obvious and the readers will just toss it as soon as they realize it’s “just another one”.

I also urge you to be concise, again remembering and having sympathy for the readers.

I suggest keeping it brief, well-organized, and with clearly delineated paragraphs making your points, so your comment will be easy to read and understand.

From my own experience, huge blocks of uninterrupted text can be daunting and difficult to slog through. Using shorter paragraphs makes text much easier and more pleasant to read.

Disclaimer: This document is intended to serve as a guide; it is not intended and should not be considered as legal   advice. Please seek counsel from a lawyer if you have legal questions or concerns.

 

4 thoughts on “Making Effective Comments on Regulations.gov

  1. gamegetterII

    Far too many comments on proposed rules/ regulations are nothing more than angry rants. Usually incoherent, disjointed rants.
    These types of comments can do much more harm than good.
    Short, clear, concise is the way to get positive attention.
    The rants either get ignored, or generate more comments in opposition to the points that were made.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I agree!

      Despite of how we feel, we need to exert some self-discipline and keep our comments constructive instead of merely “complaining”, which won’t convince anyone to be more considerate of our suffering. I doubt that excessively long and meandering or excessively negative and angry comments will even be read.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply

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