ACUS Calls for ‘Reliable Comment Analysis Software’

In a recent series of recommendations, the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), announced findings under the auspices of “Legal Considerations in e-Rulemaking,” from the Committee on Rulemaking. Having spent more than decade working on e-Rulemaking, I was curious to see what was at the top of their list. It was a relief to find that in the Final Recommendations, Item 1, Section A reads:

Consider whether, in light of their comment volume, they could save substantial time and effort by using reliable comment analysis software to organize and review public comments.

The ACUS report continues:

(1) While 5 U.S.C. § 553 requires agencies to consider all comments received, it does not require agencies to ensure that a person reads each one of multiple identical or nearly identical comments.

(2) Agencies should also work together and with the eRulemaking program management office (PMO), to share experiences and best practices with regard to the use of such software. [emphasis added]

At Texifter, we know quite a bit about best practices for sorting duplicate and near duplicate public comments. We have supported and trained Public Comment Analysis Toolkit (PCAT) and DiscoverText users at the USDA, NOAA, FCC, NLRB, SBA, USFWS, and Treasury departments. Our duplicate detection and near-duplicate clustering saves agencies from the expense of manually sorting non-substantive modified form letters. DiscoverText is now used in Europe by aviation regulators.

How did we get here? More than 300 agency officials attended workshops, focus groups and interviews over a 10-year period. Algorithms were developed and tested. Interfaces were designed, built, tested and re-built.  Agencies shared millions of public comments and guided us as we tailored a system to work with the bulk downloads from their email servers and the Federal Docket Management System, which gathers the nation’s public comments at If “reliable comment analysis software” is needed, Texifter’s flagship product DiscoverText has to be considered a guiding light for some of the key ACUS findings.

About Stuart Shulman

Stuart Shulman is a political science professor, software inventor, entrepreneur, and garlic growing enthusiast who coaches U13 boys club soccer and in the Olympic Development Program with a national D-license. He is Founder & CEO of Texifter, LLC, Director of QDAP-UMass, and Editor Emeritus of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics. Stu is the proud owner of a Bernese/Shepherd named "Colbert" who is much better known as 'Bert. You can follow his exploits @stuartwshulman.
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