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How Washington, D.C., Agencies Write Regulations to Support Laws

In Washington, D.C., Congress sets the framework of a broad policy mandate through legislation. Federal agencies then flesh out the policy supporting this mandate through the creation of more detailed regulations.

For example, Congress may pass a new law that requires cosmetic companies to use safe and approved ingredients, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for issuing regulations that let companies know exactly what this law means for their production going forward. The FDA may publish a list of approved ingredients that companies can use, for example, or require certain tests or approvals to satisfy the new law.

The public comments process in the United States allows the stakeholders on a given issue to provide input when the details of a particular policy are being formed. For many stakeholders, influencing how an agency writes a rule or regulation is much more important than influencing a bill under deliberation in Congress because often the devil is in the details.

Government agencies usually publish draft regulations or changes to existing regulations before calling for public comments. Stakeholders formally submit their comments, which are then made public and searchable online. In subsequent versions and revisions of the regulation in question, agencies (at their discretion) may incorporate stakeholder input into the final draft.

Using the example of the hypothetical “safe cosmetics ingredients” bill, companies may submit comments on ways to tweak and amend the regulation so that it is most effective in providing consumer safety and least inhibitive of the companies’ marketing or business operations.

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