New Forest Service Notice and Comment System for directives

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, USDA published revisions to 36 CFR 216, the regulation that addresses notice and comment on Forest Service directives. The rule is published as a final rule and will be effective 30 days after publication. There is a 60-day public comment period after which USDA may revise the rule based on comments received. The updated regulation will expand the range of Forest Service directives subject to notice and comment requirements. Changes to the regulation will make it easier for the public to learn about and comment on proposed changes to the agency’s directive system. In addition to increasing transparency in agency policy development, these actions will result in realized efficiencies and cost savings by expediting the agency’s process for issuing guidance and reducing publication costs.

Current regulation only requires notice and comment on changes to the Forest Service Manual when substantial public interest or controversy can be expected. The revision to 36 CFR 216 will apply the notice and comment requirements to both the Forest Service Manual and the Forest Service Handbook for those directives which are applicable to Forest Service programs. Because 36 CFR 216 will apply to both the manual and the handbook, the number of directives subject to notice and comment will increase, but the new process will increase efficiency and independence, resulting in the expectation that staff offices will be able to be more proactive in developing, revising, and reviewing their directives.

In April, the Forest Service will publish complementary directives to add Agency procedures for providing public notice and opportunity to comment on proposed directives. These directives will also be available for notice and comment. The revised handbook will provide the agency’s employees with the direction needed to implement the new notice and comment process. The revised rule also requires the agency to provide information on proposed directives on the agency’s website. Complementary provisions proposed for the Forest Service Handbook will describe this new notice and comment process, including procedures for providing notice, as well as guidance for engagement with the public, tribes and state and local governments. Together, these changes will provide the Forest Service with increased opportunities to engage with the public to support strong and sound decision making.

The Forest Service Notice and Comment System will be operational by September, 2018, at the conclusion of all comment periods for both the rule and directive.