Sen. Blumenthal Urges New OMB Director to Release Needed Rules and Improve Transparency

On May 7, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urging the agency to end excessive delays in reviewing crucial health and safety protections. Echoing the concerns of public interest and safety advocates, Blumenthal wrote "that there are human costs to delay" and asked newly appointed OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to immediately complete reviews of several proposed agency actions.

OMB houses the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is responsible for reviewing the rules of other federal agencies before they are proposed or finalized. OIRA reviews routinely last beyond the 90-day time limit set out by Executive Order 12866. The letter notes that 84 of the 153 regulatory actions currently pending at OIRA have been there longer than 90 days. Some delays have lasted more than two years.

Blumenthal said that he was especially concerned about two proposed rules that have been excessively delayed. One is a proposed standard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect workers from silica dust.  1.7 million workers are exposed to silica on the job, mostly in construction, sandblasting, and mining. Silica has long been known to cause silicosis, an irreversible but preventable lung disease that can be fatal. The proposed rule has been stuck at OIRA for over two years, meaning that the public has not been given the opportunity to review, discuss, or comment on the standard.

The other rule is a congressionally mandated safety standard proposed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) that would improve rear-view visibility in cars and reduce injuries and deaths from vehicles backing into pedestrians and other cars and trucks. As Blumenthal's letter states, "The proposed rule would help save children that are injured or killed because drivers don't see them while backing up. These are common-sense proposals with real-life consequences." The proposal has been under OIRA review for about 539 days, well over one year.

The letter also urges OMB to review a proposed set of guidelines submitted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would limit the amount of arsenic in juice. “OMB should act quickly to ensure children are protected,” Blumenthal said.

In addition to ending delays, the letter asks OMB to be open and transparent to the public by explaining in writing the reasons for delay and proposing an alternate timeline for completion of OIRA’s review process. Despite OIRA's dominating influence over agency rulemaking, its review process has been historically opaque. In a 2003 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that OIRA often made substantial changes to rules under review, but the review process was not well documented or clear.

Members of Congress have previously asked OMB and OIRA to end delays and release rules to no avail, so the impact of Blumenthal's letter remains to be seen. Still, as Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action, Blumenthal's concerns about regulatory reviews are significant. His letter concludes, "Undue delay in the rulemaking process poses costs on the public, creates uncertainty in the industry, and reflects poorly on OIRA's role in the regulatory process by giving the impression that life-saving public policy is being bottled up for political reasons or due to pressure from special interests."

Pictured above: Sen. Richard Blumenthal

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