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OIRA to Hold Public Engagement Session on Increasing Public Participation in Rulemaking

By Amit Narang and Bitsy Skerry

This week, a small and little-known branch of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), will hold an important meeting on a topic that impacts virtually all Americans: broadening and deepening public participation in agency rulemaking. While that may not sound like that impacts your daily lives, the truth is that regulations protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the rights of workers, and the safety of the products we buy; prevent discrimination; and fight climate change (just to name a few).

OIRA is hosting this event as part of the U.S.’s involvement in the international Open Government Partnership, which requires the government to plan hand-in-hand with advocates from civil society and the public about how to improve the responsiveness of governments around the world.

This engagement session holds much promise since OIRA is the agency responsible for the review of major regulations of massive importance to Americans’ lives, like those that protect workers, consumers, public health, and the environment. And, this week’s session appears to be a critical first step toward achieving the memorandum issued by President Biden on Day One of his administration to “begin a process with the goal of producing a set of recommendations for improving and modernizing regulatory review.”

Biden further stated that the recommendations “should provide concrete suggestions on how the regulatory review process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.”

This week’s engagement session provides an important venue for stakeholders to discuss one of the most needed reforms at OIRA:  to make the promise of the regulatory process being open and “democratic,” rather than opaque and captured by corporate interests, a reality.

It is clear the Biden Administration understands the need to balance the regulatory review process so it is not dominated by corporations and special interests. Getting members of the public to participate in the process, especially members of marginalized communities, is crucial to ensuring that regulations help, not harm, these communities. This public engagement session will give OIRA the opportunity to hear what everyday people have to say about improving our system of public protections.

OIRA is expected to announce its reforms to the regulatory review process very soon. Meanwhile, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives begins to address the most egregious problems plaguing our federal system of public protections. The Stop Corporate Capture Act (H.R. 6107) reimagines a regulatory process that gives consumers, workers, and members of the public who benefit from regulations a seat at the table.

For example, the bill would for the first time establish the Office of the Public Advocate to balance out corporate dominance in the regulatory process by helping the public participate more effectively and advancing social equity. This will ensure that consumers, workers, and members of the public who benefit from regulations can have a voice.

Furthermore, the bill would strengthen agency procedures for notifying members of the public, particularly members of marginalized communities and non-English speakers, about rulemakings.

The Biden Administration would do well to consider some of the groundbreaking reforms proposed in that bill designed to curb the influence of corporate power in the regulatory process by elevating the voices of those who benefit from regulations.