GAO report: Public comments have led to ‘at least some’ substantive changes for final rules; CFPB among the 10 surveyed

A report by the congressional watchdog showed that of the 52 program offices in 10 agencies surveyed – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) being the only one of the 10 which is primarily concerned with consumer financial protection – most responded that public comments from 2013 through 2017 led to at least some “substantive” changes to final rules.

The report, released Monday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), specified that 49 of the 52 program offices from those agencies gave such a response. But the report did not say which agencies’ program offices did so.

From GAO report (GAO-20-383R) released May 18, 2020

Agencies were identified, however, in a graphic on responses to questions pertaining to the importance of comments, duplication, and the identity or organizational affiliation of the commenters. Possible responses were “not at all important,” “slightly important,” “moderately important,” “very important,” and “extremely important.”

The single 91) program office responding for the CFPB answered that:

  • whether a comment is substantive is “extremely important”;
  • whether a comment is unique is “moderately important”;
  • the number of comments submitted on a particular issue is “moderately important”; and
  • the total number of comments in favor or opposed to the rule is “slightly important.”

The GAO stated that eight of the 10 selected agencies use Regulations.gov as their electronic comment platform, which the office notes that experts and users have criticized over its search function’s capabilities and more. “Officials told us this website is being modernized,” the GAO offered.

The report was requested by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chair and ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.), chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management; and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Information on Selected Agencies’ Management of Public Comments” (GAO-20-383R)

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