National Legislative Office

The Federal Rulemaking Process

The RSAC is part of a collaborative rulemaking process. The committee provides a continuing forum for advice and recommendations on railroad safety issues. Interested segments of the rail industry are represented on the committee. The committee allows railroad labor, management, the FRA and other interested parties to cooperatively address safety problems by identifying the best solutions based on agreed upon facts. If regulation appears necessary, the committee identifies regulatory options to implement.

Who Comprises the RSAC?

The committee is comprised of 48 representatives from 25 member organizations, representing various rail industry perspectives.

What are among the issues being considered by RSAC?

How RSAC works

The Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) is governed by the following statement of purpose:

The Committee shall seek agreement on the facts and data underlying any real or perceived safety problems; identify cost effective solutions based on the agreed-upon facts; and identify regulatory options where necessary to implement those solutions. In determining whether regulations are necessary, the Committee shall take into account section 1(a) of Executive Order 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review), which provides as follows:
The Regulatory Philosophy. Federal agencies should promulgate only such regulations as are required by law, are necessary to interpret the law, or are made necessary by compelling public need, such as material failures of private markets to protect or improve the health and safety of the public, the environment, or the wellbeing of the American people. In deciding whether and how to regulate, agencies should assess all costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives, including the alternative of not regulating. Costs and benefits shall be understood to include both quantifiable measures (to the fullest extent that these can be usefully estimated) and qualitative measures of costs and benefits that are difficult to quantify, but nevertheless essential to consider. Further, in choosing among alternative regulatory approaches, agencies should select those approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety, and other advantages; distributive impacts; and equity), unless a statute requires another regulatory approach.

The resultant rules must be reasonable, clear, effective, and enforceable; impose as small a burden as is practicable; and shall, to the extent feasible, specify performance objectives, rather than specifying the behavior or manner of compliance that regulated entities must adopt.

The RSAC will provide advice and recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regarding the development of the railroad safety regulatory program, including issuance of new regulations, review and revision of existing regulations, and identification of non-regulatory alternatives for improvement of railroad safety. Of course, the RSAC's own resource limitations will not permit FRA to refer every safety regulatory task to RSAC. Moreover, on occasion, the need to address a safety issue in a very expedited way will preclude such a referral.

It is FRA's policy to utilize consensus recommendations of the RSAC as the basis of proposed and final agency action, whenever possible, consistent with applicable law, including guidance from the President. In considering whether to adopt RSAC recommendations, the Administrator weighs the interests of the public at large and the ability of the agency to administer, and, if necessary, to enforce, any requirements that would result from final agency action.

FRA will consult with the RSAC on a periodic basis regarding the development of its regulatory program, advising the RSAC of emerging issues, statutory requirements, and other identified needs. It is the intent of the FRA to consider the views of RSAC members in determining regulatory priorities.

The RSAC provides advice and recommendations on specific tasks assigned to it by FRA. Whenever possible, FRA will consult with the RSAC prior to assigning a task to the committee. As each task is assigned, the RSAC may elect to accept or reject the task, or to recommend that the task be restructured. When a task is assigned, FRA sets a target date for the presentation of RSAC's recommendations to the Administrator. The target date is based on consultation with RSAC and may be adjusted by FRA based on further consultation. FRA may withdraw a task from the RSAC at any time. FRA will provide the RSAC an explanation when it does so.

General RSAC Structure

The RSAC structure consists of three levels: (1) the RSAC itself (the full committee); (2) working groups responsible for developing recommendations on one or more specific tasks assigned to RSAC; and (3) task forces that develop data and recommended actions with respect to elements of tasks assigned to working groups. The RSAC is appointed and chaired by FRA. At each level, membership reflects parity between representatives of railroad labor and management interests. Of course, in addition to railroad labor and management, representatives of other interests directly affected by FRA's safety regulatory program will sit on the RSAC and, as appropriate, on working groups and task forces.

Voting by proxy is permitted at any of the three levels. Proxy voting is essential to accommodate the busy schedules of those who will serve at the various levels without jeopardizing representation of their interests.

Working Group Formation

The RSAC will establish a working group to undertake each program development task (e.g., rulemaking or issue to be examined for possible rulemaking), and that working group will be dissolved when the task is completed (normally following issuance of a final rule or decision not to institute rulemaking). A working group may be assigned more than one task if tasks are clearly related, but standing working groups are not employed. The working group functions as staff to the RSAC and is comprised of individual representatives from RSAC member organizations who may, but need not be, RSAC members themselves.

The Chairperson, after consultation with the committee, determines the appropriate structure for a working group. Each working group will be comprised of only those members directly interested in the task and will be limited to the smallest number necessary to accomplish the assigned task. In selecting members for the working group, strong preference will be given to persons with technical expertise in the subject matter. A fair balance of interests actually implicated by a particular task is sought in the selection of the working group membership. The Chairperson will provide an opportunity for any stakeholder with a direct and legitimate interest in a particular task to serve on a working group.

Task Force Formation

The working group may establish a task force on any task. This may be especially useful where significant fact finding and data development are necessary, where the working group has more than one task at a time, and/or where the overall task assigned by FRA can be efficiently divided into sub-tasks. Task force members may be members of RSAC organizations or other knowledgeable persons sponsored by RSAC organizations. The task force reports to the working group that established it. The task force must adopt its report by full consensus, i.e., unanimously. When full consensus cannot be reached, the task force notifies the working group of this fact.

Presentation of the RSAC's Recommendations to the Administrator

Once the RSAC reaches consensus, the Chairperson transmits the RSAC's recommendations to the Administrator. If, with regard to a particular task, there was no full consensus at the task force or working group level, or no majority consensus at the RSAC level, the RSAC reports the absence of consensus to the Administrator. Of course, in the absence of consensus recommendations, FRA will simply determine the best course of action on a particular issue without the benefit of the RSAC's advice.

Proposed and Final Actions

To the maximum extent practicable, FRA utilizes the RSAC to provide consensus recommendations with respect both to proposed and final agency action. Of course, except for those limited circumstances where an opportunity for prior comment is unnecessary, FRA provides to the general public in the Federal Register notice of its regulatory proposals, an opportunity to comment in writing, and an opportunity for an oral presentation (hearing). Following issuance of a proposed rule, FRA requests the RSAC to assist FRA in considering comments received. With respect to either a proposed or final rule, FRA may schedule one or more meetings of the RSAC during which information and views are received from other interested persons.