Controlling the Bureaucracy


Once the particulars of implementation have been spelled out in the legislation authorizing a new program, bureaucracies move to enact it. When they encounter grey areas, many follow the federal negotiated rulemaking process to propose a solution, that is, detailing how particular new federal polices, regulations, and/or programs will be implemented in the agencies. Congress cannot possibly legislate on that level of detail, so the experts in the bureaucracy do so.

Negotiated rulemaking is a relatively recently developed bureaucratic device that emerged from the criticisms of bureaucratic inefficiencies in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.Philip J. Harter. 1982. “Negotiating Regulations: A Cure for Malaise,” Georgetown Law Journal, 71, No. 1. Before it was adopted, bureaucracies used a procedure called notice-and-comment rulemaking. This practice required that agencies attempting to adopt rules publish their proposal in the Federal Register, the official publication for all federal rules and proposed rules. By publishing the proposal, the bureaucracy was fulfilling its obligation to allow the public time to comment. But rather than encouraging the productive interchange of ideas, the comment period had the effect of creating an adversarial environment in which different groups tended to make extreme arguments for rules that would support their interests. As a result, administrative rulemaking became too lengthy, too contentious, and too likely to provoke litigation in the courts.

Link to learning graphic

The Federal Register was once available only in print. Now, however, it is available online and is far easier to navigate and use. Have a look at all the important information the government’s journal posts online.

Reformers argued that these inefficiencies needed to be corrected. They proposed the negotiated rulemaking process, often referred to as regulatory negotiation, or “reg-neg” for short. This process was codified in the Negotiated Rulemaking Acts of 1990 and 1996, which encouraged agencies to employ negotiated rulemaking procedures. While negotiated rulemaking is required in only a handful of agencies and plenty still use the traditional process, others have recognized the potential of the new process and have adopted it.

In negotiated rulemaking, neutral advisors known as convenors put together a committee of those who have vested interests in the proposed rules. The convenors then set about devising procedures for reaching a consensus on the proposed rules. The committee uses these procedures to govern the process through which the committee members discuss the various merits and demerits of the proposals. With the help of neutral mediators, the committee eventually reaches a general consensus on the rules.