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July 24, 2023

OIRA Publishes Guidance on Broadening Public Participation and Community Engagement in the Regulatory Process

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On July 19, 2023, the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) posted a blog item entitled “Making Voices Heard in the Regulatory Process,” announcing the release of “guidance detailing new steps that Federal agencies should take to make it easier for interested members of the public to voice their views in the regulatory process.” According to OIRA, new directions to federal agencies in the guidance include:

  • Calling on federal agencies to use public engagement — such as working with a local organization to hold listening sessions to hear directly from impacted communities — to help set regulatory priorities, and to describe how public engagement informed those priorities in the Unified Agenda of Regulatory Actions compiled by OIRA each fall and spring.
  • Encouraging federal agencies to review their policies on communication during the regulatory process to facilitate more proactive engagement — for instance, according to OIRA, when federal agencies actively reach out to communities that might be affected by a regulation but might not otherwise participate because of barriers such as lack of time, knowledge, accessibility, or trust in government.
  • Encouraging federal agencies to adopt leading practices for public participation and community engagement, such as holding regular public listening sessions; using a variety of channels to share information with the public; and building on relationships that local, regional, or district agency offices might have with trusted community intermediaries.

OIRA’s guidance “emphasizes the importance of reaching out to interested members of the public early in the regulatory development process to help build durable, two-way, and trust-based relationships between members of the public and Federal agencies.” OIRA states that when developing this guidance, it sought to model leading practices for public engagement. It held four listening sessions and invited public comments to learn more about barriers to greater participation in the regulatory process and potential steps for broadening participation.
According to OIRA, it will work closely with federal agencies in the coming months to identify opportunities for supporting more public participation in the regulatory process. It will also hold a listening session “in a year to take stock — and see how we could be doing better.”