Tuesdays (and Thursdays) With Regulations.gov BETA

By Kurt R. Karst

Anyone who has recently (on Tuesdays and Thursdays at least) tried – and we mean tried – to wander on to www.regulations.gov to do a little FDA docket research has likely been redirected to a new URL: https://outage.regulations.gov/beta-redirect/.  And the first thing you see on that redirected webpage is the following message:

You are being redirected to Beta.Regulations.gov.

Why is this happening?

In order to get important user feedback, www.regulations.gov will be redirecting users to the Beta site at https://beta.regulations.gov every Tuesday and Thursday in June and July for 24 hours starting at 8:00 am ET.  Please note that all comments that are submitted through the Beta, both during the redirect and regular operations, are provided to agencies.

Read the GSA Blog Post

We went ahead and read the blog post from the U.S. General Services Administration (“GSA”), titled “GSA Steps Forward to Modernize Electronic Rulemaking,” and also viewed an Introduction Video.  Afterwards, we had the same question the GSA proffers above: “Why is this happening?”

According to the GSA’s blog post:

GSA’s eRulemaking program is modernizing Regulations.gov, the source for information on the development of federal regulations and other related documents issued by the U.S. government.  On Regulations.gov, you can find, read, and comment on regulatory issues that are important to you.  The Regulations.gov beta version is a re-envisioning of the site, with enhanced search capabilities, a simplified commenting process, and a brand new design to improve user experience in public commenting.

The existing Regulations.gov site is planned to be formally decommissioned in September 2020 and replaced with the modernized version that is currently available for evaluation at beta.regulations.gov.

In another document with Frequently Asked Questions the GSA states:

Why is Regulations.gov beta necessary?

Regulations.gov has received almost 10 million comments since 2006, making it a heavily trafficked site that is critical to government transparency and the public’s ability to comment on agency documents and regulations.  To ensure Regulations.gov is continually improving to meet the needs of this user base, the site’s user interface, commenting process, and behind-the-scenes architecture require enhancements to reflect updated design and technology standards.

While the Beta site may provide for “a brand new design to improve user experience in public commenting,” it’s certainly a step down for researching those public comments and other documents.

FDA moved from the Agency’s now-legacy docketing system to Regulations.gov back in January 2008 (here).  Though it took a little getting used to at first, the then-new Federal Dockets Management System quickly grew on us.  It provides an easy-to-use search feature that allow one to create daily docket sheets by agency and to search across dockets.  That’s important to us.  We need to know what’s going on each day at the Agency.

Unfortunately, the new, but not improved, Beta site is not so easy to maneuver.  It seems to us that in an effort to simplify things, the GSA has made searching dockets a tedious and frustrating process.  Give the Beta site a quick spin and you’ll see what we mean.  We even had to come up with a workaround to create quick daily docket sheets.  Here are example URLs: “https://beta.regulations.gov/search?agencyIds=FDA&postedDateFrom=06-09-2020&postedDateTo=06-10-2020&sortBy=title&sortDirection=desc” (for documents) and “https://beta.regulations.gov/search/comment?agencyIds=FDA&postedDateFrom=06-09-2020&postedDateTo=06-10-2020&sortBy=postedDate&sortDirection=desc” (for comments).  These URLs search FDA docket entries on the Beta site from June 9, 2020 to June 10, 2020, from newer to older postings, under the “Documents” and “Comments” tabs, respectively.  You just have to modify the dates in the URLs when you want a different time period.  But two searches are necessary.

If you’re up to it, there’s a “Feedback” button where you can submit comments on the Beta site.  Maybe if enough people comment, the GSA will do some retooling to add better search and other capabilities.  Here are some of our specific comments:

  • Add the ability to sort search results by “ID number,” which amounts to Docket Number. This is critical.  There can be hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of entries each day.  Folks need to maximize the ability to sort by “ID number” to group dockets together.
  • In Beta, you have to separately search “Documents” and “Comments.” That means running each search twice . . . . and reviewing the results twice.  That’s a lot of unnecessary work.
  • Currently on the Beta site, the “old” Regulations.gov links do not work (e.g., https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2007-D-0369). It is unclear whether this will be the case once the Beta site is fully live.  If so, then a lot of our old blog posts with links to Regulations.gov will no longer work.  The same is true for other publishing outlets.  So, there should be automatic forward-linking between the old and new platforms.