A Model of Citizen Engagement and Advocacy: The PRC Public Representative
In each case before the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Commission selects an individual to represent and advocate for the interests of the general public in that case. This appointment is required by statute (39 U.S.C. § 505) to ensure that the public interest is not overlooked in proceedings. Many agencies take into consideration the public interest, but those interests are not typically articulated and advocated separately and independently. At the Commission, individuals are selected to serve as the Public Representative for a particular docket, and then return to their other duties. An Ethical Wall prevents participation of the Public Representative in the decisional process for that proceeding, but permits the Public Representative to speak with a wide variety of interested persons and stakeholders.
The Public Representative is either an attorney or a technical analyst. Often the Public Representative can receive technical or legal assistance from an individual who is not part of the agency’s decisional process. In most dockets, the Public Representative files comments. On occasion, the Public Representative has sponsored expert witness testimony. Recently, the Commission has added an Attorney-Administrator position to develop a comprehensive description of the program, to continue to improve the public representation process, and to assist in training, mentoring and skills development. The Attorney Administrator has produced a Public Representative Handbook for staff use.
The Public Representative was established as part of the Commission’s enabling statute; Congress felt it was needed for this regulatory area. However, any regulatory agency can establish a similar program.