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White House Agency That Scrutinizes Regulations Is Unfriendly to New Safeguards, Operates in Secret, New Public Citizen Report Finds

OIRA Must Be More Transparent, Forced to Stick to Deadlines

A small but powerful White House agency that reviews proposed regulations has consistently taken an anti-regulatory posture over the past few years, but the full scope of the impact of that stance cannot be discerned because the agency is shrouded in secrecy, a new Public Citizen report concludes.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which resides within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, delays and blocks many proposed health, safety and environmental standards. It has a time frame in which it is supposed to review new rules – 90 days, set by an executive order issued by President Bill Clinton. But it suffers no consequences if it misses that deadline.

And OIRA routinely misses the deadline, the report shows. As of May, 51 rules had been under review by OIRA for more than a year, while 87 rules had been under review for more than the 90-day limit. A full 23 rules have been under review since 2011, while three rules have been sitting at the agency since 2010. This year, the average review times has risen to 199 days, more than double the average review period of the Bush administration.

Public Citizen’s report comes as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a hearing today on the nomination of Professor Howard Shelanski as the next OIRA administrator.

“The review process at OIRA allows the White House to mask substantive opposition to a rule under the guise of procedural delay,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy analyst for Public Citizen. “We need changes that will make OIRA transparent and accountable to the public.”

Why rules are delayed, the nature of the changes made to them and the substance of conversations OIRA staffers are having with interested parties is never made public.

However, with some rules, it is obvious that OIRA’s foot-dragging harms – and even kills – people. A rule to protect workers from silica dust, a deadly carcinogen, has been stuck at OIRA for more than two years. While the agency stalls, workers are dying. Silica exposure kills 200 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To reform the agency:

  • OIRA should be required to disclose the substance of changes it makes to draft proposed and final rules;
  • Congress should require federal agencies to make available to the public the substance of any changes made to a draft regulation submitted to OIRA;
  • OIRA should disclose an array of documents relating to its review of rules; and
  • Rather than allowing OIRA’s time limit to be self-enforced, Congress should impose a time limit by which OIRA should review a rule, or empower issuing agencies to publish proposed and final rules once the 90-day review period expires, regardless of whether OIRA has acted.