News & Politics

Federal Rulemaking Site Posts False Notice Blaming Shutdown for Outage

Screenshot of regulations.gov. notice.

A federal rule-making site run by the EPA went dark on Thursday, but it was not due to the government shutdown, the agency says. Regulations.gov is an online portal that the public can use to view and submit comments on federal regulations and rules.

Initially, a message popped up at regulations.gov indicating that it is “not operational due to a lapse in funding, and will remain unavailable for the duration of the government shutdown.”

The notice caused a great deal of confusion and consternation online.

It has since been changed to reflect that the outage was due to “systems issues” and work is underway to restore the website.

Meanwhile, EPA’s main site is functional, but has the following message posted at the top of the page:

Due to a lapse in appropriations, EPA websites will not be regularly updated. In the event of an environmental emergency imminently threatening the safety of human life or where necessary to protect certain property, the EPA website will be updated with appropriate information. Please note that all information on the EPA website may not be up to date, and transactions and inquiries submitted to the EPA website may not be processed or responded to until appropriations are enacted.

The EPA said in a statement that the regulations.gov message was posted in error, Politico reported.

“The language from the banner on the active page was inadvertently used to describe the regulations.gov outage,” an EPA spokesperson said. “It is currently being revised to reflect that we are actively working to restore the website following a technical glitch.”

Some are questioning whether the outage was a technical glitch or an inside job:

According Politico, the website “was operational until at least Wednesday evening.”

The website is a key part of the federal rulemaking process, as it’s where the public is able to comment on regulations proposed by the administration, including major rules pitched by the Trump administration on campus sexual assault, the use of drones and taxes.

Comments will close on the campus sexual assault rule on Jan. 28. Now liberal activists want the administration to push back comment deadlines due to the shutdown.

“Regardless of when the site’s full functionality is restored, the administration should immediately extend all open comment periods for however long the government shutdown lasts to protect the public’s fundamental right to participate in the regulatory process,” the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen said in a statement. “Anything less than a blanket comment period extension for the full duration of the shutdown means the Trump administration is cutting the public out of the regulatory process — and does not take the importance of public comment seriously.”

Public Citizen is a left-wing consumer rights advocacy non-profit group.