February 4, 2009 The Pump Handle 5Comment

It doesn’t seem to have made the news yet, but President Obama has just taken a very important step for the health of our water, air, and workplaces. An executive order published in today’s Federal Register revokes EO 13422, by which President Bush gave the White House the power to interfere with regulatory agencies’ activities.

Bush’s order created new requirements for the agencies and allowed the White House to exert control over a wide range of activities, including issuing guidance documents. Public health advocates warned that it would institutionalize an anti-regulatory approach and threaten agencies’ ability to perform their Congressionally mandated duty of safeguarding the public.

When a group of public health advocates (including our own David Michaels) came together under the leadership of the nonprofit OMB Watch to issue recommendations for the new administration, rescission of EO 13422 was one of the seven steps they urged Obama to take during his first 100 days in office:

The president should rescind E.O. 13422 immediately. The executive order, issued in January 2007, places significant rulemaking authority in Regulatory Policy Officers, displacing agency head authority and adding more power to White House rulemaking judgments. The E.O. requires that Regulatory Policy Officers approve the initiation of any rulemaking. Concerns have been raised about the constitutionality of delegating this authority and about placing the authority for initiating a rulemaking, especially in very large agencies, in one person’s hands. In addition, the order is overly broad in its definition of what constitutes guidance from agencies, allowing OIRA to control the substance and timing of disclosure for information clearly not intended to impact rules.

(For more background EO 13422, check out this post and our U.S. Regulation page.)

It could be tempting for a president to retain close control over federal agencies’ activities, but Obama apparently understands that more White House involvement means more delay – and also runs counter to Congress’s intention in creating the agencies. With today’s executive order revoking EO 13422, Obama demonstrates that he wants our regulatory agencies to be able to do their jobs of protecting the public’s health and environment.

5 thoughts on “Obama Frees Agencies from White House Interference

  1. Note that this decision only revokes Exec. Order No. 13,422 — Bush’s additions to the core reg review order. It does not revoke Exec. Order No. 12,866, and there is every indication — in particular the nomination of anti-regulatory scholar Cass Sunstein to be White House reg czar — that things will not go swimmingly for regulatory agencies, in particular OSHA and MSHA.

  2. You’re right, Bob – there’s much more than can be done on regulatory matters besides revoking EO 13422. The next important moment will be when Obama gets the results of the review of the process that he just ordered (see Celeste’s post yesterday on the 1/30 executive order) and decides what to do with them.

  3. Wow, what a concept, that the President had “the power to interfere with regulatory agencies’ activities”! How about a little civics lesson: Congress makes the laws, often delegating their authority to regulatory agencies. These agencies are part of the Executive Branch. The Executive Branch is headed by the President.
    Now I’m sure some Poli Sci person out there can spew some law or court case, but to me it is common sense: if the “Boss” can’t set the agenda, then he is not “The Boss”! It may be your OPINION that Bush’s management style was incorrect, but it was Bush’s prerogative – not yours. I’d rather that style then the Clinton days when agencies (namely, the fascist EPA headed by the now-resurrected Carol Browner) routinely broke the law and exceeded their authority.

  4. The President isn’t supposed to be the one and only boss over the agencies.

    Congress and the White House share power over the agencies: Congress gives the agencies mandates for what they have to do, and the White House appoints agency heads, subject to Senate confirmation.

    What Bush did was to take away some of Congress’s power over agencies by appointing RPOs who would not be subject to Senate confirmation and by delaying or stopping agencies from doing the work that Congress has charged them with doing.

    Bush was seizing more power than the executive branch has traditionally had. Obama has restored the traditional balance of power.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.