Shelanski Lays Out Top Priorities if Confirmed as Next OIRA Administrator

by Katie Weatherford, 6/12/2013

At his Senate confirmation hearing this morning, Howard Shelanski, nominated to serve as the next administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), laid out his top priorities for the office.  Among them are addressing long-standing delays of crucial standards and safeguards and the lack of transparency in OIRA's rule review process. 

OIRA is a small office within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that holds an enormous amount of responsibility for overseeing rules issued by executive branch agencies.  Executive Order 12866 sets review deadlines and transparency requirements that OIRA must follow, but the office has a reputation for blocking important rules indefinitely without giving the affected agency or the public any explanation of its reasons for doing so.

From the outset of the hearing, Shelanski told the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) that he shares concerns with members of Congress who have argued that the lengthy rule delays and lack of transparency at OIRA need to be addressed.  Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) probed further and stressed that “delays at agencies are chronic [and] they fundamentally undermine the agencies' abilities to effectively execute the responsibilities that those agencies have.” Shelanski committed to “ensur[ing] OIRA review occurs in a timely manner,” emphasizing that this would be one of his highest priorities if confirmed.

Shelanski also spoke about his view of OIRA’s role in the regulatory process, noting that it is not OIRA’s role “to substitute its judgment about science and regulatory priorities for those of the expert agency staff and agency heads.”  He recognized that in regard to cost-benefit analysis, costs and benefits cannot always be easily quantified.  And when Congress has required an agency to prioritize public health and safety, and has prohibited cost-benefit analysis, OIRA should follow the letter of the law.

Shelanski briefly addressed concerns about a lack of transparency in OIRA’s review process.  He indicated that “[t]ransparency and the opportunity for the public to have notice and to comment in rulemaking procedures [are] extremely important.  And the public, of course, includes all stakeholders.” While disseminating more information about the rules in the pipeline would be an improvement from the status quo, we urge Shelanski to make other much-needed improvements, such as posting details of private meetings in a timely manner, informing the public of the reasons for delaying a rule, and explaining any changes it makes to agency rules.  It is encouraging that Shelanski views timeliness as a top priority. Still, the real test will be whether he, if confirmed, will actively work to move delayed health and safety rules through review in an open and accessible manner.

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