E-Rulemaking, Contracting on the List of Priorities for New ACUS

The new chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) last week discussed potential research priorities for the conference. Chairman Paul Verkuil outlined for the House Judiciary Committee’s administrative law panel several issues ACUS may address when it is reconstituted.

In his testimony, Verkuil focused on new developments in administrative and regulatory policy that have emerged since the last time ACUS operated in 1995. Verkuil highlighted the emergence and importance of e-rulemaking, the term used to describe electronic public access to rulemaking documents and participation in the regulatory process. An evaluation of e-rulemaking practices would need to be done in the light of an American Bar Association report that recommends reforms to the system (OMB Watch Executive Director Gary Bass participated on the panel that drafted the report) as well as President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, he said.

Verkuil’s testimony also addresses the proliferation of government contracts, and said ACUS may want to consider “the extent to which existing government-wide laws (ethics, FOIA, privacy, etc.) do and should apply to such activities.”

Among other issues, Verkuil said ACUS could look at the increasing use of peer reviews for regulatory analyses; “midnight regulations” finalized at the end of a presidential administration (and sometimes overturned by the new administration); federal preemption of state laws and regulation; the cockamamie (my word, not his) Congressional Review Act; and agencies’ authority to waive the requirements of statute during an emergency. Verkuil also addressed the complexity of the rulemaking process and surmised that it has incentivized agencies to use other tools such as letters and guidance in lieu of regulation.

ACUS, dismantled in 1995 as part of Newt Gingrich’s contract with America, was resurrected in 2008. But without a new leader, it has been unable to get to work. President Bush did not nominate anyone to lead ACUS, and President Obama did not nominate Verkuil until Nov. 3, 2009. He was confirmed by the Senate March 3.

Verkuil said that he is currently in the process of hiring staff, arranging for office space, and taking care of other organizational issues. He called the appointment of ACUS Council – a 10-member panel, from both inside and outside of government, named by the president that chart the course of the conference – “imminent” and said he hopes to hold ACUS’s first plenary session in the fall.

Other witnesses included Supreme Court Justices Stephen Bryer and Antonin Scalia, former OMB official Sally Katzen, law professor Jeffrey Lubbers, and Congressional Research Service specialist Curtis Copeland. The witnesses’ testimonies can be downloaded on the committee’s website.

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