June 23, 2010 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

When President Obama nominated Prof. Cass Sunstein to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) many of us in the public health community were worried. He was, afterall, an academic who authored a paper entitled, “Is OSHA unconstitutional?” and another “Is the Clean Air Act unconstitutional?” Our colleagues at the Center for Progressive Reform have tried their best to keep an eye on happenings at OIRA under this regulatory czar’s leadership. This includes excellent analysis by CPR’s James Goodwin on OIRA’s meddling in EPA’s policy on coal ash waste.

Here are two new items for readers to ponder. One may be perfectly mundane, the other reinforces my worries about Director Sunstein.

First, OIRA has completed its review of OSHA’s final rule on cranes and derricks. The notation on the regs.gov website says “consistent with change,” a phrase that has meaning only to those who have the secret decoder ring. Because the internal deliberations between OMB and the affected agency are considered confidential, (a policy dating back to OIRA’s creation under President Reagan) we don’t know whether the “change” required by OMB are good, bad or indifferent to worker protection.

As I said, this news may be mundane, or not. Once the final rule is published, we’ll see how OSHA addressed the few sticky issues raised by interested parties. Looking on the bright side, it may mean that a new rule to protect workers (and the public) around cranes and derricks may be a reality very soon.

Second, is the worrisome item, a disturbing tale relayed today on CPR’s blog. University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor explains how OIRA’s practices contradict President Obama’s assertions about sunshine and transparency. She writes:

OIRA under Sunstein has not only asserted that any agency or department can condemn action by another agency in secret, it is apparently enforcing a policy that outside stakeholders seeking an audience with Sunstein or his political deputy, Mike Fitzpatrick, must not reveal the content of a meeting, at pain of blacklisting from future meetings.

Not reveal the content of a meeting??
Do participants take an oath before entering his office?

Professor Steinzor goes on:

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have apparently won a place on that blacklist. In a phone call several months ago a since promoted former OIRA press spokesperson told me that because I had blogged about something Sunstein said to me in a previous meeting, I would not be granted another meeting to talk about any issue unless I agreed to keep what transpired confidential. My other choice was to be ‘treated as a journalist,’ which apparently means no or very limited access. I admitted some surprise and alarm at this policy, which had never been articulated at either of what I had thought were productive sessions with Sunstein and Fitzpatrick. After this strange warning, which my colleagues and I decided for everyone’s sake to try to ignore, we asked for a meeting on the important subject of how to assess the costs that carbon emissions could impose on Americans in the context of potential climate change controls, only to be stonewalled once again.

Can anyone offer any further insight on OIRA’s secrecy policy?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

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