As we have collectively shifted to a work from home model, governments at every level have been grappling with the impacts of remote work on administrative regulatory processes. The numerous physical paperwork and review requirements that compose a single rulemaking pose a significant impediment to rapid and responsive policy. Fortunately, there are possible legislative remedies to solve these challenges with technology.
Existing processes often add long timelines to complex and intricate regulations by requiring numerous, often concurrent review processes, commenting processes, and drafting steps. As a result, numerous hours of labor are often devoted to formatting documents and email chains of approval rather than the regulatory work in question. The laws governing administrative processes aspire for more transparency and accountability, but end up saddling agencies with more paperwork and give them no resources to comply with heightened requirements.
State and federal laws like the Administrative Procedures Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act are the most significant laws governing how regulation is promulgated. Thus, their texts are an integral part of reviewing and updating regulations to empower agency staff responding to public needs. These Acts were last updated in 1996 and are ripe for an update as we live in a thriving technological era.
Policymakers can consider several legislative options at state and federal levels to better equip their regulators with the tools and resources necessary to respond to dynamic world events. We offer the following:
Promote transparency and public accountability:
- Create a publicly accessible state-wide website for users to review and track what rules were made effective following the passage of new laws and to submit comments on existing regulations.
- Require agencies to publicly post guidance, interpretive rules, and non-binding recommendations that are searchable, easily accessible, and easy to navigate.
Strengthen regulatory data collection and communication
- Provide the public with information on industries impacted by regulations as part of a proposed rule’s required documentation.
- Provide for a publicly-available database that shows information about individual rulemakings including the readability and restrictiveness of regulations, how many public comments have been received per rule, and when those rules were last reviewed or updated.
- Collect compliance data to identify key information about noncompliance with rules, such as frequency, fines generated and opportunities to cure minor violations.
Digitize internal regulatory processes
- Amend state code so that rulemaking processes can be done digitally, rather than strictly paper-based processes, allowing for real-time reporting on rulemaking activity.
- Encourage state agencies to digitally transmit rulemakings to the appropriate authorities including legislative committees, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Governor, and other related parties.
Encourage Modernization Pilot Programs with reporting language
- Permit small scale pilot programs for regulatory improvement programs with pods of two to three agencies for rapid testing and iteration.
- Allow for flexible intergovernmental reporting methods to provide for agency improvements in tracking and managing of regulations.
The bevy of possible legislative improvements is not meant to be a regulatory panacea. Instead, it’s a list of best practices that can be tailored to individual government needs. The goal of these suggestions is to improve the quality and responsiveness of policy through more efficient and data-driven decision-making means.
All of these proposals share a common core: unlocking innovation. Many agency staff members have unique insights on how to track and improve regulations over time but are bound to current outdated processes by law. New technologies can connect regulators to meaningful policymaking data and workflow tools. Unlocking these pathways encourages accountability and rapid action in the face of today’s mounting needs for quick policy iteration.
About the author: Maleka Moman is the CEO & Co-founder of Esper. Maleka holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Arkansas. Prior to Esper, she was the President of Argive, a non-profit dedicated to regulatory research. Maleka is an advisor to the Cicero Institute and calls Austin, Texas home.