Website Revamped During Trump Admin Weakens Public’s Ability to Engage with Regulatory Process

Washington, D.C. — Today, a coalition of public interest organizations urged the General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) to take steps to address the reduced transparency created by the Trump administration’s revamp of GSA’s Regulations.gov website. Democracy Forward sent a letter discussing the challenges created by the new website alongside Public Citizen, the Georgetown Law Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, the National Health Law Program, the National Center for Youth Law (NYCL), Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

In Monday’s letter, the groups detail how the new version of the website—which was conceived but underfunded during the Trump administration—created a more difficult public-facing user experience, as the website lacks functionality that was available previously. Decisions during the prior administration also make it difficult for the public to reasonably use the website’s public API. Because the new Regulations.gov website weakens the public’s ability to engage with federal agency proceedings, it is in tension with the goals of the E-Government Act and the Federal Information Policy Act.

“The Trump administration underfunded the redesign of Regulations.gov and neglected to follow the government’s own Playbook to engage with the public and groups like ours that rely on the website.

“The result is a cumbersome public-facing user experience that makes access to agency rulemaking dockets more difficult. We urge GSA, with the help of USDS, to take immediate steps to ensure the public can reasonably participate in the rulemaking process on Regulations.gov.”

—Samara Spence, Democracy Forward Senior Counsel

Regulations.Gov is a critical aspect of every public notice and comment process, a process fundamental to ensuring our government considers the insights and opinions of the public,said Jane Perkins, Legal Director of the National Health Law Program. The Trump administration interfered with the public’s ability to participate in policymaking by hiding Regulations.Gov content behind layers of extra steps and frustration. The Biden-Harris administration should take immediate steps to foster the transparency of the rulemaking process that is crucial to ensuring the public can weigh in and that their opinions matter.

For advocates, citizens, journalists, and others, Regulations.Gov is a vital window into the inner workings of our democracy, said CSPI president Dr. Peter Lurie.But this important site was degraded by the Trump administration and is now a shadow of its former self. As with many other things, we hope the Biden administration seizes the opportunity to build back Regulations.Gov even better than before.

Transparency is critical to the development of good policy around vulnerable children,said Seth Galanter, Senior Director at the National Center for Youth Law.  “The Trump administration changes make it more difficult to learn who the government is hearing from and what they’re saying. These retrograde changes need to be fixed, and fixed quickly.

The Trump administration took what was supposed to be an upgrade to an integral piece of the regulatory process and turned it into a digital quagmire. We’re hopeful that the GSA will prioritize making these common-sense changes to Regulations.Gov. An improved website is better for the public interest and will result in better regulations,said Matt Kent, Regulatory Policy Associate at Public Citizen.

Regulations.gov has long been the primary means for the public to access federal agencies’ rulemaking “e-dockets,” which make proposed and final rules—and the comments and relevant supporting data on them—publicly accessible. However, the new Regulations.gov website failed to include important features that were available on the prior version of the site and allowed the public more readily to find, understand, and make use of e-dockets. Among other things, the poorly designed site:

  • Makes it difficult to find e-dockets;
  • Makes it hard to find and read submitted comments submitted on rules;
  • No longer allows members of the public to easily sort through submitted comments, which frequently number in the thousands and can number in the hundreds of thousands;
  • No longer allows users to download comments in bulk in order to sort and manage them for themselves;
  • Eliminates the ability to sign up for docket alert emails; and
  • Makes it infeasible for members of the public to use the website’s public API to sort data from Regulations.Gov for themselves.

Learn more about this issue and the problems created by the new Regulations.Gov website by reading the full letter here.

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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that represents organizations, individuals, and municipalities in impact litigation to keep corruption out of policymaking.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people – not for big corporations.

The National Health Law Program, founded in 1969, protects and advances health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families. We advocate, educate, and litigate at the federal and state levels to advance health and civil rights in the U.S.

The National Center for Youth Law advances justice through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is America’s food and health watchdog.

Press Contacts

Megan Uzzell
Democracy Forward
(202) 701-1784
[email protected]

David Rosen
Public Citizen
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(202) 588-7742

Andrew DiAntonio
National Health Law Program
[email protected]

Patty Guinto
National Center for Youth Law
[email protected]

Jeff Cronin
Center for Science in the Public Interest
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(202) 421-8911