Monday, February 10, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #11: OpenRegs

OpenRegs is an app created by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University for viewing proposed and final federal regulatory rules. The app is a mobile version of the OpenRegs.com regulatory portal website. The app is a good concept, but poor implementation prevents it from being useful.


OpenRegs provides a snapshot of the current rulemaking activities of federal agencies. You can view lists of proposed rules whose comment periods have recently opened or are closing soon, recently published final regulations, and significant regulations. OpenRegs pulls the regulations from the last several days' editions of the Federal Register.


OpenRegs also lets you view rules by agency. You can browse a list of federal agencies and view recent proposed and final rules. You can also bookmark an agency or a rule for quick access in the app, or email the information about a rule for review outside of the app.


The idea of quick access to recent rulemaking activities is good, but OpenRegs fail to deliver anything beyond a brief overview. The app does not include the text of the rules or clickable links to more information. When you access a rule, OpenRegs gives the name of the rule, the publishing agency, the date comments close (for proposed rules), and a summary of the rule. If you want to see the rule itself or learn anything more about it, you have to look up the rule somewhere else.


OpenRegs seems to have the capability to provide links to more about the rules. It is able to link to external information; each agency page contains a statement about the agency and a link to Wikipedia for more information. And OpenRegs has web addresses to pages with information on the rules. The message generate by the email rule function includes the web address of the rule's page on OpenRegs.com, where you can view detailed information about the rule and link to the rule's full text.

Unfortunately, the web address included in the auto-generated email message is not hyperlinked, so the email function is not a viable shortcut to the complete information on the rule (unless you send the email and open it in a mail application, but then you are no longer using OpenRegs).

I am disappointed that the makers of OpenRegs chose not to provide links to complete rule information. I like the app otherwise. It has a simple layout that allowed me to quickly find recent rulemaking information. I found a list of recent rules published by the Institute of Museum and Library services in less than two minutes. The same information took my half an hour to locate on Regulations.gov (the federal governments official site for accessing rulemaking information).

If more information where available, I would consider OpenRegs a great way to keep up-to-date on federal agencies. As it stands, the app will tell you that the federal government has been doing something, but it won't really tell you what. The OpenRegs app fails to deliver on its promised value.

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