Submitting public comments on proposed federal regulations is an important tool for making your voice heard and for advocating for meaningful systems change. Here are some things you need to know.
What are regulations?
Regulations are rules, orders, or laws that are established by agencies in the executive branch of the US government. Sometimes these regulations follow from bills passed by the legislative branch. According to the US Constitution, the US Congress (legislative branch) makes new laws through the process of passing bills, which federal agencies (the executive branch) then must implement and enforce. The federal rulemaking process is supposed to ensure that laws are applied as Congress intended.
What are public comments?
When establishing new regulations, agencies are required by law to solicit public comments. Public comments provide an opportunity for the public to agree or disagree with the proposed regulations and to give evidence in favor of or against them. Anyone can submit public comments, particularly since anyone, including legal minors and noncitizens, could be affected by those new regulations. Public comments become part of the official public record.
Why are public comments important?
Making comments to proposed rules is an important part of the democratic process. Agencies usually do not have all of the knowledge and perspective they need to make effective laws, so they solicit input from the public. It’s a chance to make our voices heard and to make sure that the rules, which can impact everyone, take those impacts into account. Requesting comments is an important part of government transparency.
Also, sometimes Congress fails to create new laws or amend old laws so that they adequately address issues that affect peoples’ health, rights and wellbeing. This dereliction effectively provides a prerogative for the executive branch to propose new rules, which can encompass much more than merely fine tuning how law is implemented.
For example, Congress has not passed legislation in decades that significantly changes laws regarding asylum seekers, civil rights, or the environment. In fact, one recent rule proposal from the Department of Homeland Security (executive branch) significantly violates the rights of oppressed people seeking asylum in the United States, even violating international law and the purpose of existing US law.
How does someone submit public comments to proposed regulations?
- Before preparing your comments, consider the mission of the agency proposing the regulation, as well as the purpose of the federal laws pertinent to that mission. For instance, if it is an EPA rule under the Clean Air Act, your comments should pertain to what the EPA is mandated to do according to that law.
- Once you have prepared your comments, log on to https://regulations.gov and find the proposed rule you want to comment on.
- If you don’t have a specific name or document ID number for the proposed rule, you can search by keywords and/or agencies.
- Once you find the correct entry, you can read a full description of the proposed regulation and see the final deadline for submitting comments.
- When submitting your comments, you will provide your first and last name, where you live, and optional information about yourself. You can type your comments into the comment field, or attach them as a separate document to submit. After submitting your comment, you will receive a tracking number.
- All comments and demographic information can be seen by the public. You can browse and search submitted comments for proposed regulations, and you may want to look at comments that others have submitted before you start drafting your own. The asylum rule proposal mentioned above has more than 88,000 comments, and it is possible to do a keyword search to find comments about asylum seekers from other organizations, such as the ACLU.
What to include in your comments?
- At the top of your comments, create a header includes the title of the proposed regulation and the regulation document ID number.
- In your introduction, explain your interest in the regulation. Include a brief description of whatever experience and credentials will help the agency distinguish your comment from others. Clarify whether you are submitting comments on your own behalf, or on the behalf of an organization or group.
- Next, provide the background. Establish the clear connections between the issues you care about and the specific regulatory action on which you are commenting. Provide a succinct list of your recommendations. If you are commenting on a specific part of the proposed regulation, such as a word or phrase, make sure to cite where this part is in the regulation. Doing so may mean consulting the full proposed regulation so that you can refer to the relevant page number, column, and paragraph citation from the federal register document.
- The next section of your comments is your analysis. Lay out your argument in detail, along with the evidence to support your recommendations. Include as many citations as are necessary. You should also reference any experts or other laws that may back up your argument.
- Finally, recap your main argument and repeat your recommendations.
 See Federal Register, accessed October 15, 2020.; Tara Magner, “Refugee, Asylum, and Related Legislation in the US Congress: 2013-2016,” Journal of Migration and Human Security 4, no. 4 (2016): 166-189.; Jasmine Aguilera, “Trump’s New Restrictions on Asylum Seekers Violate US and International Law, Experts Say,” Time, July 15, 2019.