New Executive Order Ignores the Mission of Federal Regulatory Agencies
by Katie Greenhaw
May 11, 2012
A new executive order, "Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens," was issued yesterday, focusing exclusively on reducing the costs of regulations to businesses. This is the latest in a series of "aggressive efforts" to reform the regulatory system by cutting these costs.
On Jan. 18, 2011, President Obama issued Executive Order 13563, "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review," instructing federal agencies to develop plans to review existing regulations to identify rules that are "outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and to modify, streamline, expand, or repeal them." Twenty-six agencies released final plans to review rules under E.O. 13563.
After the release of the retrospective review plans, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator Cass Sunstein issued an Oct. 26, 2011, memorandum on the "Implementation of Retrospective Review Plans," directing agencies to "give high priority to those reforms that will promote economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and/or job creation . . . [including] those with the greatest potential to produce significant quantifiable cost savings and significant quantifiable reductions in paperwork burdens." The memo made no mention of improving standards or the enforcement of safeguards that benefit the public, which is, after all, the mission of our federal regulatory agencies. Another Sunstein memo, issued in March, directed agencies "to take account of the cumulative effects of new and existing rules" with a goal of ensuring "against unjustified, redundant, or excessive requirements."
Yesterday's order requires agencies to give priority to changing rules to reduce the material costs to business. The potential costs to health and safety are not mentioned. The E.O. also requires agencies to ask for public suggestions about which rules to review and modify and to regularly report the status of their review efforts to OIRA. This will be an invitation to industry lobbyists and trade associations to submit new requests to have health and workplace standards watered down.
Our analysis of the agencies' look-back plans revealed that a majority of the public comments were from industry representatives urging agencies to eliminate or significantly weaken many public health and safety rules that are unpopular with special interests.
Although the first executive order (E.O. 13563) instructed agencies to review rules to determine if they should be "modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed" (emphasis added), the administration seems to have left out the possibility that a rule could be expanded to benefit public health and safety. In a blog post that Cass Sunstein also released yesterday, the administrator focused solely on streamlining and eliminating rules with no mention of using the look-back process to enhance or strengthen protective standards or safeguards.
Environmental, public health, and worker safety groups had high hopes for the Obama administration after eight years of the business-biased rulemaking that occurred under the Bush administration. This new E.O. and OIRA's recent actions seem eerily reminiscent of that period.back to Blog