Center for Progressive Reform

OIRA's Role in Regulation

Helping or Hurting?

When Congress has passed laws to protect Americans from various hazards – the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, for example – it has inevitably charged (sometimes created) a federal agency with the task of writing regulations and enforcing the law.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected President on an agenda that included generalized opposition to “intrusive” regulations – a campaign platform plank that translated into a no-holds barred effort to cut back on health and safety regulations. A key weapon in that fight was the White Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). By instructing agencies to clear drafts of regulations through OIRA, Presidents have made the agency and its chief, the so-called “Regulatory Czar,” a virtual choke point for federal regulation. Particularly during the Bush II years,  OIRA went far beyond its expertise, second-guessing scientific and technical decisions of agencies in order to bend regulations to the White House’s political or ideological agenda.While the Obama Administration took a more favorable view of regulatory safeguards, OIRA still saw fit to substitute its judgement for the expertise of agencies charged with developing regulations. Significantly, the Obama OIRA persisted in imposing a deeply flawed cost-benefit analysis, slowing down an already glacial regulatory process.

In short, the Obama OIRA functioned very much like the Bush OIRA, serving largely as as an impediment to vigorous regulation.

How will the Trump OIRA behave? The record remains to be written, but cause for optimism is in short supply. Trump's anti-regulatory views are well documented, and his early steps -- promising to reduce regulation by 75 percent, ordering agencies to repeal two regulations for each one promulgated -- are at once nonsensical, unworkable and plainly anti-safeguard.

CPR Member Scholars have weighed in repeatedly on the issue of OMB's role in the regulatory process. That work includes:


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