February 16, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

By David Michaels

The changes President Bush made last month to Executive Order 13422, requiring, among other things, that certain agency guidance documents be reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), within the Office of Management and Budget, has caused a great deal of consternation in the public health community. (We’ve written about it here and here and here.)

Fortunately, the new congress has begun to examine the potential impact of the changes in the regulatory process. Earlier this week, the House Science and Judiciary Committees held back to back hearings on the changes, and heard extensive testimony on the ways these changes will negatively impact public health and environmental protections. We’ll be writing more about the Executive Order soon, but in the meantime, read non-partisan Congressional Research Service’s report to Congress “Changes to the OMB Regulatory Review Process by Executive Order 13422.” The report was thoughtfully posted by the Federation of American Scientists.

CRS shares some of our concerns:

The implications of these amendments to the scope of presidential review of agency actions are potentially significant. Agencies issue thousands of guidance documents each year that are intended to clarify the requirements in related statutes and regulations. Therefore, the requirement that agencies provide OIRA with advance notification of significant guidance documents may represent a major expansion of the office’s (and, therefore, the President’s) influence, particularly when coupled with the ability of OIRA to determine which guidance documents are “significant” and the ability of OIRA to conclude that “additional consultation will be required” before a document is issued.

This, to me, is the most important change in the new policy. The staff at OMB is already unable to keep up with the requirements to review the regulations proposed by agencies. Adding guidance documents to their workload will grind everything to a halt. Unfortunately, this is probably of little concern to the authors of the amendments.

Watch this space for much more on this topic.

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

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