[Live Podcast] Public Input in Agency Rulemaking

December 8, 2020 at 12:00 PM ET

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Enter the Meeting ID: 971 9175 3568

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When the FCC put forward its proposed repeal of the net neutrality rule, it received 22 million public comments, by far the largest number any agency has ever received in connection with a rulemaking. The overwhelming public reaction was probably a bit surprising to agency staff, regulatory lawyers, lobbyists, and others who work in the wonky world of regulatory policymaking, where getting a hundred or so comments is perceived as a very robust response rate. And the rule vaulted agency rulemaking into the public consciousness in a way that very seldom happens, with TV host John Oliver and others encouraging everyday Americans to file comments on the proposed rule.

Though the increased public awareness of the power of regulatory agencies is undoubtedly a good thing, what exactly is an agency supposed to do with 22 million public comments? Even discounting for fraudulent or computer-generated comments (of which the agency received millions), does the agency have any obligation to consider whether or not members of the public approve of its proposed action? Should it? And if it should, is counting comments an effective way of determining public sentiment? The law provides very few clear answers to these questions, and there’s a major disconnect between the views of the public (who tend to see the public comment process as a vote) and regulators (who view comments as valuable only if they provide technical information). This panel will consider both the legal and policy issues surrounding the question of whether, and how, an agency should take account of public opinion as expressed in comments.

Relevant Reading:

Any views expressed by the speakers are those of the speakers in their personal capacities. They do not necessarily reflect the positions of their affiliated organizations.

Steven Balla

Associate Professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Public Administration, and International Affairs

George Washington University

Reeve Bull

Research Director

Administrative Conference of the United States

Michael Livermore

Edward F. Howrey Professor of Law

University of Virginia

Susan Dudley

Director, GW Regulatory Studies Center & Distinguished Professor of Practice

Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration, George Washington University