"The Secret Public-Participation Act of 1969"
Remember last fall, when you read about the 40th birthday of the Internet ("born" in 1969)? I bet many people (of a certain age) were amazed that it had been around for so long, because most people had not even heard about it until 1995 or so.
I know this from personal experience because, in the early 1990s, when I tried to tell my friends and others about a worldwide network of millions of people sending messages through their personal computers, the typical reaction was Disbelief, followed by Denial: "How can that be? Well, if that were true, then I would already know about it!"
That reaction seemed to occur more often in the Washington, D.C. area, where I lived at the time, due to the fact that they're are a lot more self-important people there. They simply couldn't handle the idea that there was something REALLY BIG going on -- for years -- and that they hadn't known about it.
Okay, so maybe you weren't one of those people. But, now, here's a test for you.
There's something else that's been around since 1969 that's REALLY BIG and that I bet you didn't really know about. It goes by another name but it really should be called "The Secret Public-Paricipation Act of 1969". That's because it's a U.S. law that requires federal departments and agencies to invite the public (that's you) to participate in their decision-making about their proposed policies and projects.
So, except for the minor decisions at federal agencies, like what kind of carpeting to buy, or how often to mow the grass around the buildings, YOU are supposed to be invited to comment on ALL the proposals that may affect or interest you. (Note: A permit for an oil drilling platform is not a minor decision, as has now become apparent.)
The official name of this law is the "National Enviromental Policy Act of 1969" (aka, NEPA). And, even though you may know it as the law that requires "Environmental Impact Statements" to be written, it is much more than that. It's a federal law for improving "transparency, participation, and collaboration" that was around for almost 40 years before the President Obama launched the "Open Government Initiative". It's just that a lot of people (like you?) don't know or think about it that way.
I'm Stephen Buckley, your host on OpenGovRadio, and my guest for the 6/8 show will be Judith Lee, owner of Environmental Planning Strategies, who has 25 years of experience and education in Natural Resource Management, Environmental Planning, and practical and effective implementation of NEPA and Public Involvement. According to Ms. Lee in a 1997 article:
"After 25 years, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is still highly misunderstood and inefficiently implemented. NEPA, however, incorporates the components of a quality public interdisciplinary planning process. The components that make NEPA a powerful planning process - recognition of the role of uncertainty, interpersonal collaboration, nonlinear processes, and decision making with administrative and political risk - tend to make NEPA discomforting, at best, to many managers and practitioners. NEPA is not about more bullet-proof documents, more talented writers, more thorough data, more controllable public involvement processes, or even correct decisions. NEPA is about more participatory planning, incorporating the messy human components of values, politics, change, uncertainty, risk, strategy, emotions, and the diversity of personalities and life experiences that shape ourselves, our coping mechanisms, and our relationships."
In addition to listening to the show on your computer, you can add to the discussion with your comments and questions. You can do that in either (or all) of three ways:
A. Post a Comment/Question on this Blog at least one hour before the show begins. Scroll down to "green box" (below) and click on "Comment". It must be concise, and focused on the Open Government Initiative (or else it will not be approved). Commentors can choose to remain anonymous.
B. Email a comment/question Confidentially to your host Stephen Buckley, who fully understands the risk of raising unwelcome questions within the government. Mr. Buckley can then raise the question "on-air" without identifying you.
C. Call-in "live" to (917) 388-4210 with your comment/question. However -- The host will ONLY "go to the phones" AFTER all the posted Comments (see green box, below) have been addressed. Callers are welcome to add/ask a "follow-up" to those posted Comments.
Handy Links to "Open Government":
1. President's Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government (1/21/09)
2. White House's Open Government Directive (12/8/09)
3. OMB's "Initial Assessment of OpenGov Plans" of Federal Agencies
4. OMB's "OpenGov Dashboard" for tracking Compliance by Federal Agencies
5. GovLoop's Chart of the OpenGov Plans
6. Transparent Leadership by Roger Schwarz (Government Executive magazine, 4/7/10)
"When you are transparent, you create better results and relationships because others understand your thinking. People always are trying to find the meaning of actions, especially leaders' behaviors. When you fail to be transparent, you increase the chance that others will come up with their own theories about your intentions and motives - theories that often will differ from yours.7. President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) - http://www.nepa.gov/
8. The BP oil spill and NEPA compliance (or lack thereof), as mentioned in an editorial by the Washington Post (6/6/10):
"Actually, it seems that for years government regulators dismissed the possibility that a big blowout could occur, downplaying the likelihood of that scenario in three 2007 studies and issuing BP a waiver from more detailed environmental analysis last year."
9. "U.S. exempted BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling from environmental impact study" - Washington Post (5/4/10)
10. Flowchart Diagram of the NEPA Process (from LucindaLowSwartz.com)
11. CEQ's "Citizen's Guide to NEPA" (2007)
12. CEQ's "Collaboration in NEPA" (2007)
13. CEQ's 30-Day Review of MMS NEPA Procedures for OCS Oil and Gas Exploration and Development (Note: FedReg notice says public comments due ASAP, not due June 17th).
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