Over the last quarter century, Congress has clearly recognized the importance of expanding public participation in federal administrative agency proceedings. It has expressly required that many agencies solicit citizen input and facilitate active public involvement in administrative processes while commanding governmental officials to consider thoroughly in their decisionmaking the views of all interests that might be affected. Congress has attempted to develop some mechanisms for promoting increased citizen participation in agency processes, but the legislative branch has been relatively unsuccessful in actually enhancing public involvement. Because citizen participants, such as public interest groups or individual consumers, have comparatively few resources for participating in administrative decisionmaking, congressional inability to promote their involvement has effectively rendered hollow the right to participate. These phenomena appear to be most problematic in rulemaking proceedings, perhaps the preeminent procedure for developing administrative policy.

There is, however, one cost-effective measure for facilitating citizen involvement in agency processes with which numerous prior Congresses and several previous administrations have experimented: public participation funding. Participant compensation was instituted during the Republican administrations of Presidents Nixon and Ford, was comprehensively experimented with during the Democratic administration of President Carter, and was applied, albeit more narrowly and in a somewhat altered form, during the Republican administration of President Reagan. Now that the 101st Congress and the Bush administration are confronting the pragmatic realities of governance in the modern administrative state, they should seriously consider this valuable technique for promoting participatory democracy to ascertain whether participant reimbursement warrants revitalization and, if so, how it can be revived most effectively. This article is meant to provoke discussion of participant compensation's worth and to stimulate new, rigorous experimentation with the concept.

The first section of this article briefly recounts the origins and development of citizen reimbursement and describes experimentation with that mechanism. The second part evaluates the benefits and disadvantages of public funding. Because this assessment indicates that the measure is a cost-effective approach for improving agency decisionmaking and for enhancing citizen participation in administrative proceedings, the third section offers suggestions for reinstituting participant compensation.

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