Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Original thoughts only, please

For years, OOIDA has preached the virtue of being involved in the regulatory process. Drivers will not be heard if they don’t talk. It’s pretty simple, really.

All of a sudden, maybe with social media’s explosive growth, there are “experts” all over the place telling you how to comment effectively.

Unfortunately, many of them are wrong. Very wrong.

Take, for example, Facebook events urging people to call FMCSA. Those calls, while they may make you feel better, will do little more than that.

Calling FMCSA and chatting up a staffer is not submitting your comments to the official record.

I reached out to FMCSA Spokesman Duane DeBruyne to explain what happens when someone calls FMCSA to “comment” on a proposed regulation.

His response via e-mail:

“Neither the content, nor the number of phone calls, are docketed, and therefore, are not considered within the rulemaking public commentary. Telephone callers to FMCSA are advised that their comments must be submitted in writing. Individuals who leave a voice message (and a return telephone number) will receive a return telephone call and are likewise advised.”

Form letters and petitions are not quite as ineffective as phone calls, but close. They might make an impact when you wave around a stack of papers at a city council meeting, but their overall effectiveness is severely neutralized when it comes to the regulatory process.

In fact, if you don’t believe me, let’s take it from a man who should know: former administrator of the FMCSA, John Hill.

In his words:

FMCSA is obligated to review and analyze relevant comments to the docket regarding a notice of proposed rulemaking. When a series of form letters are received, those comments tend to be catalogued together and then referenced in the analysis as a single thread of comments. Therefore, the value of a comment by a regulated driver is diminished by not taking the time to make it specific and unique to the proposed regulation.”

That’s pretty clear.

It also tells you that you need to take your time and present your original, specific thoughts on proposed regulations. That is what is effective.

There’s also a new resource for people who want to comment effectively, http://regulationroom.org.

This is a joint venture between the Department of Transportation and Cornell University. After years of trying to educate readers and OOIDA members not only on how to navigate the regulatory websites, but on how to comment effectively, I cannot tell you how impressed I am with Cornell’s efforts here.

It’s a fantastic way to see what are considered “good” comments, and how to have an effective voice in the process.

If you’re in doubt about how your comments will stack up, go check out this project. Of course, you can always call OOIDA. They’ve been in this game for many years, and certainly won’t steer you wrong.