June 27, 2012 

Report: Obama Administration Fails to Issue Rules on Time

New Report Details Missed Deadlines for Commonsense Safeguards

Washington, D.C.– The Obama administration regularly misses congressionally imposed deadlines for issuing rules to implement laws designed to protect the public, according to a Public Citizen report issued today.

The report, “Public Safeguards Past Due: Missed Deadlines Leave Public Unprotected,” looked at rules subject to congressionally mandated deadlines from 12 public health and safety and consumer protection agencies. Of the 159 rules reviewed in the analysis, nearly 80 percent missed their deadlines and more than half remain incomplete, proving that the rulemaking process is cumbersome and slow-moving. Further, among rules included in the analysis, all 14 rules currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) have been there longer than the agency’s allotted four-month extended review period.

“The administration’s failure to issue vital rules on time leaves the public at risk. From food safety to financial reform rules, executive agencies are failing to do their job,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “The culprits are many: excessive special interest access and input to the rulemaking process; a central executive branch agency – OIRA – that slows and blocks important public protections; under-resourced agencies; rules that hamstring agencies by requiring them to submit to paralysis by analysis; and efforts by members of Congress, acting on behest of Big Business, to pressure agencies not to issue statutorily mandated rules. But none of this is an excuse for agencies failing to carry out the law.”

Still worse, bills currently making their way through both chambers of Congress threaten to impose new causes of delay on a rulemaking process that already is far too slow. For example, the Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act (FREEZE), which may have a July vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, would impose a moratorium on all significant regulatory action until the national unemployment rate drops to 6 percent. Key public protections should not be subject to such a standard. Bills like the FREEZE Act undermine congressional intent to protect Americans by hampering the process to make the types of rules that ensure clean air and water, consumer protection and public safety.

“Congress should be looking for ways to make the rulemaking process more efficient instead of proposing pointless hurdles to further impair it,” said Negah Mouzoon, researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “Contrary to the perception that agencies simply issue regulations at will, they actually must abide by a rulemaking process that is fraught with cumbersome procedural requirements.”

The report details four commonsense rules that have faced extensive delays, including:

  • A rule that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to improve its standard on rearview mirrors for cars. The rule intends to expand the field of view to minimize blind spots directly behind a vehicle, which NHTSA predicted would reduce about 100 deaths and between 7,000 and 8,000 injuries a year. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has extended the rule’s deadline twice.
  • Rules that would help improve food safety in the wake of 48 million people suffering from foodborne illnesses last year. The rules would provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with tools to better protect the U.S. food supply, more quickly recall tainted foods and more effectively respond to foodborne illness outbreaks. Both consumer and industry representatives are uncertain about why the release of the proposed rules has been delayed.
  • A provision in the Dodd-Frank law that would require the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to direct publicly traded companies to disclose whether any of four metals – gold, tantalum, tungsten and tin – in their products came from war-torn central Africa. Disclosing whether these products use “conflict minerals” would put public pressure on manufacturers to avoid using them. The rule now is more than a year overdue.
  • A rule that would revise building energy-efficiency performance standards, designed to be a national model for carbon-neutral construction, is more than 3.5 years late.

In the report, Public Citizen points to sensible directions for policymakers to take. It calls for members of Congress to abandon efforts to saddle agencies with yet more burdens that hinder them from fulfilling their mission, which includes promulgating congressionally mandated rules. Public Citizen also calls for OIRA to develop the ability to review rules within the expanded 120 days it is allotted.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.