October 6, 2014

A Guide to Writing Public Interest Comments Using Economic Analysis

  • Jerry Ellig

    Research Professor, George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center
Key materials

The federal government’s own tips for submitting effective comments in regulatory proceedings note, “A constructive, information-rich comment that clearly communicates and supports its claims is more likely to have an impact on regulatory decision-making.”1 This guide explains how to prepare a comment on a proposed regulation, using economic analysis that supports each claim. This guide is not intended to promote any particular viewpoint, to advance any specific policy, or to promote the interests of any group. Instead, it is intended to be a resource for any person or organization seeking to write comments that improve regulators’ knowledge of the economic consequences of proposed regulations.2

Comments on proposed regulations require some substantive knowledge about law and policy in addition to economics. But understanding how the regulatory process works, the factors that affect regulatory decisions, and the legal environment regulators face should not be difficult for anyone with an analytical bent. Substantive economic research, presented in the right format, has the potential to alter regulatory decisions in ways that will improve the lives of millions of people. This guide presents six fundamental actions that will give your comment the maximum advantage:

  1. Understand the regulatory process.
  2. Appreciate the regulatory agency’s definition of “the public interest.”
  3. Know the key topics that a good economic regulatory analysis should address.
  4. Recognize the agency’s legal authority and constraints.
  5. Write your comment in the appropriate format, language, and tone.
  6. Tell other interested parties about your comment.

1. UNDERSTAND THE REGULATORY PROCESS

Federal regulations exist because Congress delegates lawmaking authority to federal agencies. 
Agencies exercise this authority by writing regulations. They arer equired to follow certain procedures 
as they do so, which often include performing economic analysis of the proposed rules.3 By helping agencies get the economic analysis right, a public interest comment can promote better regulatory 
decisions.

A BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF THE REGULATORY PROCESS

The origin of every legal regulation is a law passed by Congress. Each spring and fall, the federal 
government publishes its Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which is supposed to list all the regulations that agencies are either considering or working on.4 If you want 
to start researching a topic before an agency issues a regulation, this document provides some idea 
of what regulations are under development. Be aware, however, that regulations can remain listed
in the 
Unified Agenda for years before they are proposed, and sometimes regulations are proposed 
that were never listed in this document.

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