February 17, 2012 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 1Comment

“What’s taking so long?” might be uttered by a youngster waiting for a parent to assemble a swing set, or an art patron waiting for a conservator to restore a masterpiece. When the wait is finally over and the eager child or art lover see the final product, they realize the time was well spent.

Public health and worker safety advocates have been asking “what’s taking so long?” for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to complete a review of a draft occupational health standard. A 1993 Executive Order gives OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) authority to review agencies’ major rulemaking initiatives and stipulates a maximum of 120 days to do it. But it was more than a year ago that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) submitted to OMB a proposed rule protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica. OMB has yet to finish its review.

Last month more than 300 individuals sent a letter to President Obama calling for a release of the proposal to allow the public comment to begin on it. An OMB spokeswoman didn’t comment on why the OSHA rule has been at OMB for three times the maximum time period. She simply told the Huffington Post:

“It’s not uncommon for review periods to be extended for regulatory actions that require additional time for consideration of public comment and analysis by OMB and all the affected agencies. I don’t know precisely when review will conclude.”

Some of us who signed onto the letter to President Obama suspect that the White House’s molasses-pace review of this rule is more about politics than anything else. I ask myself, has the inter-agency deliberation on this proposed worker safety rule been so vigorous that OMB really needed more than 52 weeks to conduct it?

For now, OMB remains silent about the nature of its deliberations on this proposed OSHA rule. If the proposal, however, is eventually published by OSHA we should be able to learn something about why OMB’s review took so long. Under Executive Order 12866, OIRA is supposed to make available to the public all documents it exchanged with OSHA about its proposal. With such records in hand, we’ll be able to judge for ourselves whether a year-long review was time well spent. Like the youngster with the swingset or the art patron with the masterpiece, we might see an improved document that was worth the wait.

On the other hand, I may be compelled to write a post with the headline “It took them that long for this?”

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