When French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States nearly 200 years ago, he famously marveled at the degree and diversity of the American people’s civic engagement. Through a recent, little-noticed guidance, the Biden administration is now working to further infuse this unique tradition into one of our nation’s most important governing institutions: the federal regulatory system.
The White House guidance’s recommendations will be essential for empowering ordinary people to shape the policies we care about, whether it’s keeping our drinking water clean or protecting our wallets against predatory banks.
Since our nation’s founding, the federal regulatory system has played a critical role translating congressional legislation into concrete policies that improve our lives by making us more secure and promoting a fairer economy. Significantly, members of the public have been instrumental in this task, working side by side with our public servants at every stage of implementation.
Despite this, the regulatory system is not yet achieving its full democratic potential. As our new research shows, the primary vehicle for public participation — the “notice and comment” process through which agencies invite members of the public to offer their views on how to improve rules under development — is failing to meaningfully engage most members of the public, particularly individuals and small groups from structurally marginalized communities.