Making proposed rules, comments, and other documents available on Regulations.gov is a good first step to public accessibility. However, there are usability issues that make this access ineffective for the average user.
Documents themselves should be more readable. It may seem petty, but the current font is outdated and unreadable. Updating to Times New Roman or another font that users are more familiar with will help prevent them from becoming disengaged as soon as they open a document.
Users are also turned off by huge walls of text. Changing “----“ breakers to actual solid lines would help, as would the use of bold and italics to demarcate headings and help users navigate what are often long and complicated documents. These formatting changes would be preserved by the PDF format, and so should not present a huge obstacle for users operating on different platforms.
At the beginning of documents, it would be helpful to have an outline with headings and page numbers. This would help users find relevant parts of the document, as well as help them know whether this document is likely to contain the information they’re looking for. Hyperlinks to subsections from the initial outline section would improve navigation, but at least a bare textual outline is essential.
There are also barriers to users lacking detailed knowledge of agency structure, which is the case for the majority of the public. I searched for something specific, “electronic on-board recorders”, and the relevant documents came to the top but under the agency name FMCSA, not DOT. If I had searched only within DOT, I would have missed those documents. It would help to list documents under multiple agencies, so that when people search they don’t accidentally exclude relevant search results.
Finally, when you are on the page for a rule, there should be a link such as “see comments and supporting documents” to help users navigate to related documents of interest. It seems that this can currently be done by clicking on the Docket ID number, but this is not intuitive or easily navigable for the majority of users.