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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 66· No. 1 > Internet Watch

July/August 2002
Vol. 66· No. 1

Internet Watch

by Keri Funderburg

Let Your Voice Be Heard

How DOT and Other Agencies Use the Internet to Gather Feedback

Government agencies frequently issue invitations for individuals and organizations to provide comments on laws, regulations, ordinances, and reports by a specific date. Earlier this year, for example, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Work Zone Safety and requested comments from transportation professionals by June 6, 2002. Also, in May of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Joint Program Office solicited feedback from transportation professionals on its National ITS Program Plan.

In the past, responding to these invitations for comment required writing a letter to an Agency, perhaps submitting multiple copies of that letter, paying for the postage, and mailing the letter(s). Persons submitting comments might never know if the Agency ever received or reviewed the comments.

The convenience and speed of the Internet are simplifying the once-onerous task of comment submittal. Increasingly, government agencies rely on an online comment submittal system to gather feedback from industry peers or the public.

DOT's DMS Web

DOT's new online Docket Management System, or DMS Web, is located at http://docketsinfo.dot.gov/. Through DMS Web, users can view the documents currently available for comment from several departments within DOT. In addition to the document up for comment, dockets may contain copies of previous proposed and final regulations, Federal Register notices, comments already received, and other related information. A list of the documents and proposed regulations currently open for comment within DOT is available at http://docketsinfo.dot.gov/.

Submitting a comment on a particular document is easy using DMS Web. From the Web site http://docketsinfo.dot.gov/, a user either registers as a DMS user or proceeds to the comment submittal process. The Web site enables users to locate a specific document by providing its title, docket ID number, or issuing agency. A user may provide some information such as name and address before submitting a comment, which will appear alongside the user's comments in the docket. DMS Web staff review feedback and then post it online within the docket. Registered DMS users will see their personal information included along with their comments in the docket.

Other Agencies with Online Comments

DOT is not the only Federal agency with an electronic docket and online comment system. Other systems include:

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - http://cascade.epa.gov/RightSite/dk_public_home.htm
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - www.fcc.gov/e-file/ecfs.html
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets

Although most of the regulations and documents of interest to transportation professionals probably will be found on DMS Web, keeping informed of activities within other agencies may directly or indirectly affect a project or program in the transportation industry. The OSHA e-comment Web site, for example, featured a proposed rule on the placement of traffic control signals, signs, and barricades, which was open for comment until June 14, 2002.

States, NGOs, and Public-Private Groups

A few States also use online comment systems. For example, the Arizona Department of Transportation solicited comments on the Governor's Transportation Task Force Vision 21 Plan. Anyone could submit a comment on the plan through August 10, 2002, at www.dot.state.az.us/Vision21/index.html. Most States do not appear to have systems as complex as those operated by the Federal government, and most States simply provide e-mail addresses where comments can be sent. E-mail is still a step in the right direction in simplifying and streamlining the comment submittal process.

In addition to government agencies, many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including several transportation organizations, participate in online public comment periods. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and ITS America actively solicit comments from their members on new and upcoming research and reports through their Web sites. ITS America recently ran an article on its Web site soliciting e-mailed comments from transportation professionals on a draft of its Transit Signal Priority White Paper.

These organizations often send out alerts or post announcements on their Web sites (usually on their "News" pages) about Federal rules and regulations for which the government is soliciting comments. Similar to State agencies, many nongovernmental organizations continue to rely on e-mail to submit comments electronically.

The Innovative Pavement Research Foundation (IPRF), an industry research consortium, together with FHWA, are sponsoring a planning team that developed an innovative online comment system to solicit feedback from interested parties on long-term concrete pavement research.

Whether you are submitting comments on regulations or providing your expertise on current research projects, the Internet makes filing comments easier and faster than ever before. Over the next year, DOT will help implement an e-gov initiative to consolidate all of the Federal government's public comment Web sites into one rulemaking portal. Once the site becomes available, Public Roads will publish more information about the portal and the Web address.

Keri Funderburg is a contributing editor for Public Roads.

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