A rich and challenging dialogue about the shape of eRulemaking is underway. While in its infancy, an interdisciplinary research community has formed to assess and inform the development of information technologies that serve the public and rule writers. To date, little is actually known about whether this transition is likely to benefit or degrade the role of public participation. As with all policy innovation, particularly technologically determined innovation, the risk of unintended consequences is present. While the Internet may usher in a new era of more inclusive, deliberative, and legally defensible rulemaking, it may be just as likely to reinforce existing inequalities, or worse, create new pitfalls for citizens wishing and entitled to influence the decision-making process.
This article examines the origin of Regulations.Gov, a federal Web portal, in the context of recent literature on public participation, and federally funded research into impact of eRulemaking. It draws on workshop, interview, and focus group experiences that have fed into a multiyear dialogue between researchers, regulators, and the regulated public. It argues this dialogue is a fruitful and necessary part of the development of a standard architecture for eRulemaking that is consistent with the intent of public participation in the regulatory rulemaking process.