By Christine Ray, GSA Science Policy Fellow
Are you looking for more ways to put your geoscience expertise to use and engage with policymakers? You might already be familiar with GSA’s Congressional Visits Days, but there are also opportunities to make your voice heard in the Executive Branch of the U.S. government.
The Executive Branch consists not only of the President and Vice President, but also a slew of federal agencies that are responsible for most of the day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws. Some of these agencies, such as the Department of the Interior (home to the U.S. Geological Survey), are housed under executive departments, the heads of which are members of the President’s Cabinet. Others, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are classified as independent agencies. Regardless of which type of agency it is, these parts of the Executive Branch often play a major role in our lives as geoscientists, both through the grants they make available to fund our work, and through the laws and regulations they enforce related to our areas of study.
While these federal agencies ultimately need approval from Congress to both create and fund programs, many of the specific rules and regulations that govern their grants and funding opportunities, policies, and program implementations are up to the agencies themselves—and they often seek input from the public on how to write them. These public input opportunities can be taken advantage of online, from the comfort of your home or office, but they’re not always easy to track down. Here, you’ll find pointers to help you as a geoscientist identify potential feedback opportunities that may be of interest, and play a greater role in shaping U.S. science policy.
There are a few different options to keep tabs on public comment opportunities, but most ultimately link back to regulations.gov. This government website was launched in 2003 with the purpose of making public commenting on federal rules and regulations more accessible, and now has over 220 participating agencies posting there. A similar method is to browse the Federal Register, the official “newspaper” of the federal government that publishes new presidential documents (things like executive orders and presidential proclamations) along with rules and regulations every day, including proposed rules soliciting public comment. Unlike regulations.gov, the Federal Register contains both finalized and proposed rules, but has a friendlier user interface and is easier to search by topic. The two are also directly integrated: You can submit comments directly on a Federal Register posting that are automatically sent to regulations.gov. Additionally, the Federal Register contains some listings that require comments submitted elsewhere, like this opportunity to help frame the first ever National Nature Assessment from the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
While searching directly on both regulations.gov and the Federal Register will show you all current feedback opportunities in one place, making them great starting points if you’re not yet sure what you’re interested in but want to explore what’s out there, they can leave a lot to dig through. For tips on navigating these sites and making that task more manageable, you can check out our how-to guide in the Policy Toolkit.
If you already have some idea of which agencies and/or topics you’re interested in engaging on, there are a few other ways to monitor feedback opportunities that don’t require you to actively sift through them. One of these is the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Newsletter, which is sent out a few times a month and highlights upcoming feedback opportunities related to environmental policy from both federal agencies and the Office of Science in each edition. There’s also a newsletter from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which often offers their own public comment opportunities such as the National Nature Assessment mentioned above.
Another option is to follow the agencies that you’re interested in through their own channels. In November, for instance, NASA released a public comment opportunity for its Mars Sample Return environmental impact statement, which was not only posted on regulations.gov, but also announced on their news release page and on their Twitter account. This is the same strategy employed by the USGS, which posts requests for public comment (like this one, seeking input on its list of critical minerals in 2021) on its Twitter account and its news page, the latter of which you can sort through by national news or by state.
With the 118th Congress likely to keep a watchful eye on the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, agencies like the EPA and Department of Agriculture (USDA) will continue to post public input requests on those efforts via their respective press release sites, too. You can find some examples of those type of requests from the EPA here and the USDA here.
Finally, we here at the GSA will post public comment notices that we think our members might be interested in to our Twitter account and in GSA Connection whenever we see them.