Monthly Agency Public Meetings increase transparency and enhance public participation in the regulatory process
The Postal Regulatory Commission holds monthly public meetings to discuss the agency’s activities and current responsibilities. Members of the public and other stakeholders are invited to attend. In addition, the audio of the meetings is webcast live, and a recording of the meeting audio is posted online for later listening or downloading. The meetings generally include informal updates by the Chairman, comments by the other Commissioners, and formal reports from office heads on departmental and agency-wide activities, but in a manner that does not infringe the deliberative process. These reports typically prompt comments and questions from the Commissioners. This provides the public a better understanding of matters before the Commission and the priorities of the Commissioners. The meetings are noticed in the Federal Register and are announced on the Commission’s home page and in the Commission’s online calendar. At the conclusion of the public meeting, members of the public are invited to introduce themselves. The public meeting is followed by a closed session to discuss topics such as pending litigation. Stakeholders and members of the public have responded positively to this innovation and share the information gleaned in newsletters and blogs.
These meetings increase transparency and enhance public understanding of the issues under discussion, and enhance public participation in the regulatory process. Webcasting also permits the public and stakeholders to listen to these meetings without travelling to the Commission, thus reducing their expense.
A monthly overview public meeting is easy to adopt. At first, principals may be reluctant to webcast the meetings live. However, the Commission’s experience has been most positive. It is also possible to record and publish the meeting recording after the fact as a way to begin experimenting with this activity. Live webcasting can begin after the organization has gained some familiarity with the process.
One practical consideration: the Commission has found that it is very useful to test the webcasting connection the day before each meeting, because changes in the computer server configuration can sometimes sever the links for webcasting.
The Commission initially encountered persistent and distracting buzzing noises resulting from interference between the microphones and smart phones / laptops. To fix this problem, the Commission consulted an audio expert, installed new RF-resistant microphones in the hearing room, and made other system adjustments. The Commission asks meeting attendees to switch off their electronic devices and also attempts to keep laptop computers at least a couple of feet away from the microphones.