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 considers 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.
- 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
- [Moderator] Susan Dudley, Director, GW Regulatory Studies Center & Distinguished Professor of Practice, Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration, The George Washington University
Visit our website – www.RegProject.org – to learn more, view all of our content, and connect with us on social media.
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. In Mr. Bull’s case, he is speaking exclusively in his personal capacity and not as an employee of the Administrative Conference.