July 3, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

By Liz Borkowski

Finally, here’s some good news in the power struggle between the Bush administration and Congress: The House has voted to prohibit the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) from spending any money on an executive order that gives political appointees greater authority over federal regulatory agencies.

Bush’s executive order (which amended an order that was issued by Reagan and amended by Clinton) gives OIRA additional authority over activities of regulatory agencies; creates new requirements for the agencies, including an analysis of “market failures” that make rules necessary; and subjects more of their work to these requirements. Public health advocates have warned that this will delay the implementation of health, safety, and environmental protections – and some members of Congress agree.

Jim Abrams reports for the Associated Press on the House’s action:

The House vote came on an amendment to a bill that funds the White House next year. The bill goes to the Senate when Congress returns next week from a Fourth of July holiday.

Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who teamed with Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., in offering the amendment, said it “stops this president or any president from seizing the power to rewrite almost every law that Congress passes, laws that protect public health, the environment, safety, civil rights, privacy and on and on.”


Democrats portrayed Bush’s order as another example – similar to carrying out warrantless wiretaps or firing federal prosecutors – where the administration has tried to expand its powers while keeping Congress and the public in the dark.

Miller, who heads the House Science oversight subcommittee, tried unsuccessfully in at a hearing in April to persuade the White House regulatory affairs office’s former acting administrator, Steven Aitken, to reveal what private groups might have been involved in rewriting the Clinton-era order.

Miller chaired a hearing on the executive order back in February, and witnesses explained several of the problems with it:

  • The executive order is only one of several Bush Administration moves that together make it extremely hard for regulatory agencies to do their jobs. Sally Katzen, herself a former OIRA head and proponent of executive control over agencies, said agencies today “Have at least one arm tied behind their back, two ten-pound bricks tied to their ankles, and they’re set on an obstacle course to navigate before they can issue any regulations.”
  • The order establishes the position of Regulatory Policy Officer at each agency; the officers will be appointed by the president, but the order does not specify that they will be subject to Congressional approval. By contrast, federal agency heads are appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress, making them accountable to both branches. There is also a possibility that the RPOs might quash proposed regulation quietly before it even makes it out of an agency – so, we might not even know what we’re missing.
  • With these changes, the executive branch is taking away control of agencies that Congress has tasked with ensuring the safety of our air, food, workplaces, and other essentials.

For background and past posts related to the executive branch’s power grab, go here.

Liz Borkowski works for the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.

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