Information technology and public commenting on agency regulations


  • Previous versions of this research were presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 7–10 April and the Symposium on E-Rulemaking in the 21st Century, sponsored by the Committee on the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, 5 December 2005.

Professor Steven J. Balla, Old Main, Room 401C, 1922 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052, USA. Email:


In this research, we assess whether the number of public comments filed in response to proposed agency rules has dramatically increased as a result of the automation of the submission process. Specifically, we compare the volume of comment activity across two large sets of rules issued by the Department of Transportation, one that occurred before the launch of an agency-wide electronic docket system and another that occurred after this launch in 1998. Our analysis shows that, contrary to expectations held by many researchers and practitioners, the overall levels and patterns of stakeholder behavior showed a remarkable degree of similarity across the two periods. This finding implies that public involvement in rulemaking is not likely to become vastly more prevalent in the information age, confounding both hopes of democratization of the process and fears of costly and harmful mass participation.