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Writing Comment Letters
by Ken Golliher, BOL Guru

Writing a comment letter means exercising your right to speak out during the legislative process. Persons affected by proposed legislation are encouraged to participate in this way. The effectiveness of that participation is greatly enhanced by understanding the legislative and rulemaking process and adopting a few well-established techniques.

The Legislative Process
BillInitially, one or more members of Congress sponsor a bill. It is introduced and debated in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Once both houses of Congress pass a bill, it is presented to the President for final approval.
Law or StatuteWhen the President signs a bill it becomes law. A law normally represents a framework for action. It does not always dictate the exact steps to be taken to carry out the action. Usually, the law assigns responsibility for issuing interpretive regulations to an arm of the executive branch of the government.
Proposed RegulationsThe process of issuing proposed regulations is tedious. Regulations are not considered proposed until they are published in the Federal Register.
COMMENT PERIOD (Normally 60-90 Days)
Final RegulationsOnce all comments have been analyzed, the agency's final action is published in the Federal Register. The final regulation defines what must be done to comply with the law as passed by Congress.

In some instances, a government agency determines, independent of Congress, that regulation is needed.

Comment Letter "Do's"
  • Organize your letter logically; e.g., order of the regulation, order of importance to your institution, biggest concerns first, etc.
  • Include institution information regarding asset size, market place, etc.
  • Key on important issues. There is no requirement to analyze the entire proposal.
  • Support your conclusions with facts and figures on how your institution would be affected; be reasonable and objective.
  • Make your points clearly. If the reader has to read between the lines you have wasted your time and effort.
  • Include suggestions for alternatives to proposed compliance requirements.
  • Keep letters short, or, at least, to the point. The length of a letter does not add to its effectiveness, but may detract from it.
  • Make positive comments when appropriate, particularly if several options for compliance are being considered.
  • Distribute copies of your letter to anyone whose support could be helpful.
  • Have your letter carefully proofed before mailing. Technical inaccuracies, misspellings and general errors are distracting to the reader and detract from the effectiveness of your letter.
  • Refrain from quoting the proposed regulation. References to sections should be adequate for the reader and will reduce length.
Comment Letter "Don'ts"
    When writing comment letters do not:
  • complain that the regulation is not needed. (There is little chance they will scrap it completely.);
  • become emotional. (This technique has not proven effective with most government agencies.);
  • assume that large institutions are given a bigger ear. (All comments are given equal consideration);
  • assume that a lengthy letter will say more. (In fact, it may be just the opposite.); and
  • play the victim. (You are only a victim if you don't participate in the process.)
Send a copy of your comment letter to every person or entity that may help your cause. Of course, the federal regulatory agencies are the place to start. The address, and when applicable the fax number and email address, for sending comment letters to the pertinent agencies is included in the notice published in the Federal Register.

First published on 7/2/02.

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