This afternoon, I had the chance to attend a roundtable hosted by the law firm that Altius uses (Bryan Cave HRO), where we discussed many of the various things that are happening in the Export Control Reform arena. I realized that some of the people thinking about commenting on the latest USML Category XV NPRM that I blogged about last week might want some suggestions on how to write an effective NPRM comment. As someone who has only done this once before myself, I figured I’d pass along some suggestions (Note: some of these are my own suggestions, and some I got from others at the event this afternoon):
- As mentioned before, try to go out of your way to be constructive and courteous. There are ways of making a passionate point convincingly and unoffensively.
- Don’t just say “this is a stupid idea”. Apparently a fair number of their comments on a typical NPRM are of this variety, where no real arguments are made. If you feel that their proposed rule is flawed, make sure you explain why, and if possible suggest something that you think would be better!
- Provide some insight into how the flaws you see in the proposed rule would negatively impact you and your company personally, if possible. And also tie that into bigger picture impacts if you can. For instance, if you’re involved in the sRLV industry, pointing out how specifically listing manned sRLVs on the USML will hurt your company, the industry, and the economy can be a helpful data point for them.
- Keep things to a reasonable length. Unless you’ve got a ton of factual data you need to share, keeping the comment in the 3-5pg range is probably about right.
- The more comments from a broad audience, the better. If they get a lot of comments all saying similar things, that actually does carry some weight with the evaluators.
- Assume good motives, and make sure to reread your comment before submitting to make sure that your assumption of their good motives is clear before you submit. People tend to react better to constructive criticism when they see that you’re not treating them like the enemy.
- If you’re directly in an industry effected by the law, try coordinating your response with an industry trade association (like the Commercial Spaceflight Federation). While having additional independent responses is valuable, apparently the government tends to take industry trade association comments fairly seriously, as they often reflect the consensus of a wide range of players. Trade associations often also have the resources to do a good and thorough job on things like this, and if you’re part of their association, that’s probably part of what you’re paying dues for.
- I kind of suggested this above in #2, but if at all possible provide them with a suggested alternative approach that helps them fulfill their goals in a way that removes the flaws you saw. I think the FAA AST liked calling this “demonstrating and equivalent level of safety via an alternative means of compliance” or something like that. Pointing out flaws and why something is flawed is important, pointing out solutions is even better.
I’m a bit slammed at the moment with some proposals, but am planning to put in a good chunk of time on this when I’m back up for air in two weeks. I intend to post my comment here on Selenian Boondocks in case people care what my arguments are. Sorry I won’t have time to post it with more time before the NPRM comment window closes, but I wanted to help where I can.