You’ve seen the sentence when the FTC announces that it’s thinking about putting a new rule in place or changing what’s already on the books: “Interested parties are invited to submit comments. . . .”. The alphabet soup of the administrative process can be a bit daunting at first: ANPR (Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking), FRN (Federal Register Notice), CFR (Code of Federal Regulations), SBP (Statement of Basis and Purpose). When it comes to the rulemaking process at the FTC, here are six common myths — and the straight scoop.
“Filing public comments is for the Washington wingtip crowd.” Comments from D.C-based groups and inside-the-Beltway movers and shakers are as welcome as any others, but proposed FTC rules affect consumers and businesses across the country. Agencies need to hear from people who don’t work on lettered streets across from national monuments. Simply put, geographic diversity of viewpoint makes for better policies.
“The government doesn’t want to hear what we have to say.” Not true. Maybe some people enjoy listening to a choir made up of all sopranos (especially if they’re sopranos). But most people appreciate harmonies that reflect divergent voices. The FTC’s like that, too. That’s why it’s important for a broad range of interested people to participate in the process: consumers, businesses, non-profits, academics, local, state, and federal agencies, and anyone else with a perspective to share.
“What could we possibly add to the conversation?” A lot. Nobody knows better than business executives what’s really going on in their industry. Or perhaps you’re a professor who’s studied the sector and has research to share. And who better than consumers and groups representing them to offer real-world perspectives on issues that affect their pocketbook? You can’t assume your voice will be heard unless you’re the one who speaks up.
“Why bother? They’ve already made up their minds.” Again, not true — and there’s proof to back that up. Here’s how the rulemaking process usually works: The FTC publishes a proposal, people send in comments, and then after studying what’s been filed, the FTC issues a final rule. Usually accompanying the final rule is a lengthy document that discusses the comments the agency received and how those comments affected its thinking. So there it is in black and white: proof that public comments can and do change minds and shape policy.
“Nobody reads those comments.” Oh, yes, they do. And FTC staffers have the squint to prove it. In addition, the FTC posts on the website the comments it gets, so people all over the world can read them.
“The process is too complicated.” Then you haven’t checked out the FTC’s online public comment system. Those “footnotes in triplicate” days are long gone. Filing a public comment is as easy as a point and a click. That means you can spend more time thinking about the substance and less time fretting about filing.