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It’s the Most Powerful Agency You’ve Never Heard Of

Pop Quiz: What’s the most powerful government office you’ve never heard of?

Maybe a secretive national security office or covert operations outfit? Think again.

Actually the most powerful government office you’ve never heard of, according to the former head of the office, is the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, referred to as OIRA (pronounced “oh-EYE-rah”) for those in the know. But for those who aren’t familiar with the agency, a little background is in order.

OIRA is a small White House office that reviews regulations before agencies can finalize and issue those rules. Sounds pretty banal and technical, right? Not quite.

Under administrations from both parties, the agency has been a chokepoint where corporate lobbyists go to block, delay, and water down new public protections – harming workers, consumers, climate and our environment, public health, and more.

OIRA’s recent track record, not to mention its historical record, bears this out.

OIRA was established in the Reagan administration to counter what Republicans saw as “overzealous regulators.” Even under the Obama administration, OIRA still routinely overturned decisions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other agencies working to protect the public.

President Joe Biden promised long overdue reforms to OIRA that would make the rulemaking process more efficient, transparent, and responsive to the public – especially historically marginalized communities. He even issued an executive order on Day One of his administration authorizing a reform process, and we hope to see progress soon.

At Public Citizen, we’re leading the fight to modernize the regulatory process and to ensure OIRA’s leaders are passionate about protecting the public.

To learn more, check out these resources:

Stop Corporate Capture Act Would Repair Our System of Public Protections (December 2021)
Biden Must Follow Through on Regulatory Review Modernization (November 2021)
95 Groups, Public Interest Leaders Call for Swift, Bold Action on Public Safeguards (December 2020)
Unwinding the Deregulatory State and Restoring Public Protections (November 2020)
The Deregulatory Dictionary: Defining Anti-Regulatory Buzzwords Used by the Right (February 2020)
Unsafe Delays: An Empirical Analysis Shows That Federal Rulemakings to Protect the Public Are Taking Longer Than Ever (June 2016)
White House Agency That Scrutinizes Regulations Is Unfriendly to New Safeguards, Operates in Secret, New Public Citizen Report Finds (June 2013)
Public Safeguards Past Due: Missed Deadlines Leave Public Unprotected (June 2012)
Flowchart of the Federal Rulemaking Process (March 2011)