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:
OIRA Meetings. An extensive CPR analysis of OIRA's meetings without outside organizations found that industry dominates the process, and that meetings often lead to industry-friendly weakening of proposed rules.
Coal Ash. OIRA's extended review of EPA's 2009 proposal to regulate coal ash is a case study in what's wrong with the process. OIRA violated the executive order establishing its authority to review regulations by missing its deadlines, then imposed on EPA an alternative, watered-down, regulation, and then saddled EPA's original proposal with a cost-benefit analysis that would make it all but impossible for EPA to describe plainly hazardous coal ash as a hazard. Read CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor's 2010 comments on EPA's proposal and OIRA's role in the process. Read the news release.
Only 2 of 31… Just 2 of the 31 statutory provisions undergirding the nation’s health, safety and environmental regulatory structure call for cost-benefit analysis. One is the Consumer Product Safety Act. Can you guess the other? Use CPR’s chart to impress your friends.