Skip to content

CSS Comment on Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Public Participation and Community Engagement with the Federal Government

May 17, 2024 | Download PDF

Loren Schulman, Associate Director
Office of Performance and Personnel Management, Office of Management and Budget

Samuel Berger, Associate Administrator
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget

Re: Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Public Participation and Community Engagement with the Federal Government (Docket ID No. OMB-2024-0005-0001)

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), an alliance of over 180 labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups, and the organizations listed below welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the recent notice from the Office of Management and Budget regarding Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Public Participation and Community Engagement (PPCE) with the Federal Government (2024-05882).

We commend OMB for issuing this RFI and for articulating the Federal Government’s commitment to “making it easier for the American people to engage with their Government, and to harnessing their knowledge, needs, and lived experiences to improve how Government works for them and with them.”

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards shares the commitment and value of the benefits of public participation in the rulemaking process and through other types of engagement with Government.

We suggest the following approaches that could assist OMB in its efforts to develop and implement a PPCE Federal framework.

We organize our comments using the framework of questions included by OMB in the Request for Information.

Experiences individuals and organizations, including from underserved communities have had in participating (or trying to participate) in Federal Government PPCE activities (e.g., notice and comment processes, Requests for information, etc.) that inform government decision-making.

Many of the biggest barriers that individuals face as they try to participate in Federal Government activities generally arise from two overarching factors: (1) individuals are most often not professional advocates or lobbyists and cannot be reasonably expected to act as if they are; and (2) the intrinsically complex and technical nature of most regulations presents a barrier to participation by non-expert individuals who may have deep knowledge and experiences of the consequences of regulations.

Specific examples of barriers include: a lack of awareness of the Government engagement activity; a lack of access to the content of information due to the highly technical nature of the language used; hearings scheduled during standard work hours, which are inconvenient for many individuals, and especially members of underserved communities; hearings hosted at sites that are inaccessible to mass transit, or failing to offer a “remote” option for participation in hearings; a lack of outreach to communities, particularly rural ones, which lack reliable high-speed internet; a complex online infrastructure for comment submission; a failure to provide translation services for people who don’t speak English as a first language; failure to provide information in numerous languages; and failure to accommodate disabilities such as an event not taking place in a wheelchair accessible location, information not provided in braille or otherwise failing to provide accommodation for visually impaired individuals; and failure to make accommodations for people with auditory disabilities.

For certain participants, the cost of transportation, the cost of taking time from work and not receiving payment, the cost of childcare; and the cost of preparation for participation are also significant barriers to participation in a public hearing or other Government activity. We urge that the PPCE Federal framework explore creating a monetary fund to enable participants to engage with the Government regardless of their socio-economic status.

Another problematic barrier to participation is the reality that individuals’ participation would be marginalized by the sheer dominance of regulated industries in most proceedings. In many ways, the goal of a “level playing field” just isn’t sufficient, given the gross power disparities in society. In addition to strengthening public engagement, agencies need to look at the other side of the balance – how to address improper industry dominance and control. The public should no longer feel discouraged about how strongly their voice resonates in the midst of the large corporate representation.

We urge OMB and other agencies soliciting public comment to encourage the feasibility and value of mass comments. Mass comments could enhance public participation by giving individuals an opportunity to weigh in on regulations or other Government activity that impact them even if they do not have the time or expertise to draft a comment on their own.

We suggest that any PPCE framework include mechanisms to address these experiences and barriers to participation in order to create a more democratic and equitable system.

Content to incorporate in a Federal framework for PPCE, including common guidelines and leading practices that can help Federal employees better use these methods.

We suggest that OMB address the barriers we discussed above in the substantive content of a PPCE framework. We also suggest that OMB embrace the following principles as it develops the PPCE framework:

  • Articulate a positive vision of the regulatory system. We encourage OMB, heads of agencies, and the President of the United States to state and reiterate a positive vision of the regulatory system to encourage public participation in a significant institution that brings about critical and necessary change. These entities must work to challenge the false narrative perpetuated by industry and others that regulations are inherently “bad.”
  • Identify the unique strengths that individuals have to offer and design the framework so that those strengths are leveraged. Individuals are neither professional advocates nor lobbyists and have unique and valuable experiences and knowledge to share. We suggest that the framework for PPCE consider how individuals can be involved in Government activity and valued as they are as best as possible.
  • We suggest an approach that designs a participatory process to effectively capture the unique expertise the public holds – namely, that which comes from their unique knowledge and lived experience. It is critical that Federal agencies take the necessary steps to obtain this kind of individual feedback so that it can be incorporated into their decision-making.
  • Another general approach is to design participatory processes so that they resemble or benefit from activities that the public will ordinarily be carrying out anyway. For instance, creatively designed “community science” programs can take advantage of this approach. Similarly, the public can be enlisted in compliance monitoring programs that take advantage of their existing “on the ground” presence.
  • We also suggest that OMB or other agencies soliciting public participation provide concrete examples of how individuals can participate in ways that don’t involve technocratic arguments. Examples of input such as through telling stories that document relevant experiences should be provided.
  • Consider how to institutionalize the suggestions that emerge from this RFI so that they become fully integrated into the standard operating procedures at agencies. To be durable, we urge that content to increase participation by individuals be integrated into the standard operating procedures at OMB and other agencies. Thus, we urge OMB in cooperation with other agencies to consider mechanisms for institutionalizing the suggestions that emerge from this RFI.
    • OMB could direct agencies to create a tailored Participation Plan for each rulemaking or other agency action that is based on a standardized framework that OMB creates. The goal of the Plan should be to ensure that agencies are getting input from the right members of the public at the right stages of the regulatory development process.
  • OMB could direct agencies to create a Public Participation Statement, which for each rulemaking or activity would document what public participation mechanisms were employed, why they were selected, and what impact public participation had on the rules or activity’s substance.
  • OMB could consider establishing an Interagency Council on Public Participation, which would provide agencies with a forum to share best practices and lessons learned from their experimentation with different public participation mechanisms.
  • Improve the public comment process by making it less complex and more accessible to the public. Agencies should:
    • Engage the public much earlier in the public comment process, as the initial process is being developed.
    • Increase accessibility by providing an email address for submitting and asking questions about public comments during the notice and comment period for all proposed rules.
    • Provide a one-stop point of access for all proposed rules open for comment on the homepage of each agency website, including links to other important websites such as the Federal Register and gov.
    • Hold in-person hearings where impacted individuals live, in places that are accessible to public transportation.
    • It is important to determine the best ways to publicize opportunities for public participation that will best achieve the result of alerting affected communities.  For example, find out who trusted leaders are, engage their participation, and identify how information is disseminated and use those approaches and other novel outreach methods in addition to finding community leaders, which could include posting information about the Government activity at local libraries, community centers, community social media sites, etc.
    • Include the following features when soliciting comments during online public hearings:
      • Phone-in options for individuals without reliable internet service.
      • Video features so that participants feel like they are providing public comments to “real” people (e.g., being able to observe that Government officials are listening and hearing their testimony) and so that participants can showcase visual aids in virtual environments.
      • Closed captioning and American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation so that people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can follow along and be included and engaged in the conversation.
      • Language translation services to make the content accessible to non-English speakers.
      • The public comment solicitating Government engagement should be written at a 5th grade literacy level to successfully reach more participants.
    • Include more background information in public comment notices that prioritize the transparency of decision-making processes for the proposed rule. Agencies should:
      • Publish records of all research, sources, and correspondences—including virtual and in-person meetings and phone calls—used to inform the rule-drafting phase. These records should be publicly available in the rulemaking docket.
      • Ensure that redlined versions of rules, which document edits and changes that OIRA makes during the rulemaking process, are accessible to the public when a rule is published on gov, as required by Executive Order 12866, Section 6(a)(3)(E)(iii). Agencies should include clear, simple explanations of and justifications for every major change proposed by OIRA and its parent body, OMB, and these changes should be easily retrievable by the public (e.g., in memos distinct and separate from redlined documents).
      • Report back to non-traditional participants about how their participation affected the specific rulemaking or other Government action (even if it didn’t change the substance) – giving some concrete evidence to individuals that their comments are being taken seriously. This will encourage individuals to continue to participate in the future.

How OMB might continue to pursue a collaborative process to co-develop such a framework with the public.

Collaboration is critical to developing a PPCE framework that successfully increases public participation. We suggest the following:

  • Increase outreach to relevant and impacted communities. Meaningful stakeholder engagement with underserved communities is necessary to make agency rulemaking more inclusive and fair.
  • Encourage agencies to actively engage with historically marginalized communities, including tribal communities. Include engagement with historically marginalized communities and tribal communities as part of institutionalized OMB Participation Plans suggested above.
  • Regularly engage with individuals who have participated in a rulemaking or other Government process, such as an Open Government listening session, to assess their experience of the Government interaction. Make improvements to the PPCE framework based on feedback received from such engagement.


We appreciate your attention to the significant role public participation plays in the development of Government regulations and other efforts. We look forward to continuing to work with you on this critical issue. For addition information from the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, please contact Rachel Weintraub at or (202) 904-4953.

Thank you for your consideration.


Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Center for Economic Justice
Center for Progressive Reform
Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund
The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards
Consumer Federation of America
Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Inc.
The Digital Democracy Project
Endangered Species Coalition
Environmental Defense Fund
GenDemocracy and Stop the Coup 2025 Campaign to Stop Project 2025
Georgia Watch
Government Information Watch
Impact Fund
Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Kids In Danger
National Association of Consumer Advocates, Ohio State Chair
National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)
National Employment Law Project
National Federation of Federal Employees
National Health Law Program
New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education
POPVOX Foundation
The Pride Through Empowerment Foundation
Project On Government Oversight
Public Citizen
Public Justice Center
Silvix Resources
Transparency International U.S.
Union of Concerned Scientists
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

Submitted through: