'I Can't Overstate How Deeply Dull the Process Is'

"Then the U.S. Education Department proposes a rule, one reaction is guaranteed across the political spectrum: dread at the prospect of more negotiated rule-making," The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. A NASFAA news article is referenced in this article.

"That’s when about 30 people, each with distinct and often opposing views, will crowd around a rectangular table in a departmental conference room in Washington and work, despite notorious tedium, to come to an agreement.

These 'regulatory negotiation' sessions are known as 'neg-reg' for short, which annoys Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The formal term is 'regulatory negotiation,' he notes, so it should be dubbed 'reg-neg.'

... Higher-ed journalists and policy wonks moan on Twitter about the voluminous required readings prepared by the Education Department. They crack up at mundane mistakes in drafts of the provisions. The process, from when a regulation is announced to when it is made final, takes roughly 18 months.

'I can’t overstate how deeply dull the process is,' said Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary-education policy at the Center for American Progress.

As the Education Department’s budget has shrunk, neg-reg has also become more physically uncomfortable for participants, Mr. Nassirian said. Sessions used to be held in hotel ballrooms, but now they happen in a conference room, which Mr. Nassirian said sometimes doesn’t have the capacity to hold all of the observers.

... Neg-reg is valuable for rules that involve intensely technical issues, for example disbursement or federal financial-aid procedures. The process provides an opportunity for experts in the field to talk it through, said Mr. Miller. Even then, he said, neg-reg’s usefulness depends on the quality of the panel and the facilitator. 'On really controversial things, it can turn into political theater instead of meaningful policy discussions,' he said.

In the case of topics like gainful-employment and borrower-defense, in which agreement is almost certainly out of reach, the Education Department and the stakeholders must still go through the lengthy process in an effort to claim the strength of a consensus, said Clare McCann, who worked on the borrower-defense neg-reg at the department before becoming a senior policy analyst at New America, a Washington think tank.

There was a moment near the last session for the borrower-defense regulation when a committee was close to agreement, she said, but some members had flights to catch. They were asked to stay ­— but a consensus was never reached.

Now the department wants to renegotiate borrower-defense; a new rule will probably not be published until November 2018 and wouldn’t take effect until July 2019."

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Publication Date: 6/22/2017

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