The Administration

Reed Cordish has golden opportunity to smash regulatory stovepipes

Last week, President Trump announced the appointment of Reed Cordish to the newly created position of assistant to the president for intragovernmental and technology initiatives.

The move seems to promise the new administration understands the need to modernize how the federal government does business — especially how data gets shared (or doesn’t) among various agencies.

One of the most important lessons learned as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks concerns how a lack of information sharing between naturally allied agencies such as the CIA, NSA, and (former) INS — so-called data “stovepiping” — led to lost insights, duplicative efforts, and missed opportunities to protect innocent lives.

{mosads}In response to the 9/11 disaster, the U.S. intelligence community eschewed their traditionally insular practices with regard to information sharing and embraced a unified knowledge hub, where properly credentialed users can plug into as needed, sharing data and applying analytics for the common mission of national defense.

There has been, it should be noted, no repeat terrorist incident anywhere near the scale of the 9/11 attacks since the adoption of a stovepipe-smashing strategy. The new approach seems to have worked — so far, thankfully.

While the federal regulatory rulemaking apparatus does not manage the same type of immediate, life-and-death issues which commonly concern the intelligence community, it nonetheless touches nearly every aspect of the nation’s daily economic activities. The regulatory system ultimately determines how trillions of dollars are allocated, shaping a complex environment and often picking real winners and losers.

Requiring all federal agencies to participate in the current eRulemaking Program would represent one of the most obvious steps Cordish could take in his new role as a direct assistant to the president.

A central information hub for issuing rules and proposed rules and accepting public comments, eRulemaking represents the largest, longest-running intragovernmental IT program in existence.

However, only 178 of the more than 300 agencies currently participate in the eRulemaking Program. 

Former President Obama, despite his vocal support for modernizing the federal government’s processes using advanced Big Data and analytics technologies, during his two terms left the decision on whether to participate in eRulemaking up to each individual agency.

Meanwhile, the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), a nonpartisan independent agency which promotes the efficiency, adequacy, and fairness of federal regulatory programs, has consistently recommended that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), under the Office of Management and Budget, should facilitate more effective data sharing among federal agencies.

Which is precisely what the eRulemaking Program does, at least in part.

Requiring full participation by all agencies in eRulemaking would enable real-time regulatory budget analysis capabilities, whereas today the manually assembled Unified Agenda is only made available twice a year – far from adequate to be truly useful in managing government at the pace of today’s 24/7 modern world.

Fortunately, new technologies such as Natural Language Processing exist which can leapfrog previous impediments to linking together various agencies’ legacy IT systems, which until fairly recently might have been substantial technological barriers. NLP today can ingest files in disparate formats from various agencies, and translate the information in order to be analyzed with advanced tools that produce rapid intelligence and strategic insights from massive amounts of data.

The volume of data generated by the regulatory rule-making system continues to expand annually, in particular public comments submitted by individuals, nonprofit organizations, industry associations, and corporations in response to rules and proposed rules. By law, all such comments must be duly considered by agency personnel which — in the case of certain high-profile issues such as Net Neutrality and Keystone Pipeline — leads to data overload, untenable delays, and market uncertainty.

President Donald Trump has promised to pursue an activist agenda in terms of eliminating rules and regulations and re-opening certain activities and projects such as hydro-fracking and Keystone — moves which are sure to result in highly energized opposition. The public notice and comment process undoubtedly will witness explosions of activity for related federal agencies, producing massive data spikes and significant procedural delays.

Until new data-sharing and analytics systems and best practices are deliberately and uniformly implemented across the entire federal government, we can continue to expect inconsistent performance and lack of responsiveness in the rulemaking process. Cordish could seize an immediate opportunity in his new White House role to build on the eRulemaking Program’s success by expanding its participation, paving the way for a truly unified, real-time agenda.

John W. Davis, II, is the founder and CEO of N&C, provider of the regulatory data analytics solution Regendus ( Davis previously served as Director of the Homicide and Major Crimes Bureau as federal prosecutor for the U.S. Virgin Island Justice Department.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump ERulemaking federal regulations

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