Federal Agencies Release Retrospective Reviews: Preliminary Plans Appear Reasonable, But Proof will be Final Product

-For Immediate Release-
May 26, 2011

Contact: Matt Madia (202) 683-4813 or mmadia@ombwatch.org

Federal Agencies Release Retrospective Reviews: Preliminary Plans Appear Reasonable, But Proof will be Final Product

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2011—The Obama administration's retrospective review of existing agency regulations moved into the next phase today with the release of thirty agency preliminary plans for public comment. OMB Watch has identified positive elements of today’s plans, but also highlights areas of concern. There was no common format to the agency plans, although some identified specific rules or categories of rules for review. A few agencies identified possible regulations and paperwork that should be eliminated.

Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, was issued on Jan. 18. The executive order directed federal agencies to develop and submit a preliminary plan to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs by May 18 that would outline and explain how they will review existing significant regulations and identify those that can be made more effective or less burdensome while achieving regulatory objectives.

"The federal government must protect the public from harm. Successfully and thoroughly safeguarding our air, water, and food supplies requires constant vigilance. With more and more Americans falling out of the middle class, we must remain committed to protecting our citizens." said Gary Bass, Executive Director of OMB Watch.

Bass continued, "We can’t watch Wall Street gamble away seniors’ life savings. We can’t let our children play with contaminated toys. We need regulations that ensure the products we use, both domestic and foreign, are safe. Protecting our fellow Americans is part of who we are."

The organization also notes that rules already on the books need to be aggressively enforced. Special interests have gamed the system for too long. Americans have tried letting big business and multinational corporations police themselves – and they’ve paid the price. The BP oil spill, the Massey Energy mine collapse, nearly daily food safety crises, and the Wall Street collapse are only a few examples of the price to be paid for lax or nonexistent regulation.

OMB Watch believes today’s preliminary plans have three positive elements.

First, the agency retrospective review has resulted in reasonable preliminary plans for ensuring a robust regulatory process that protects the public from harm. The preliminary plans, while subject to public comment, are not extreme and appear quite considered and thoughtful.

Second, the process preceding the plans appears to have been decentralized and agency-driven. The fact that agency plans each have different formats and different approaches is indicative of the fact that this was not a top-down, White House-driven exercise.

Finally, the organization remains hopeful that the process can and will result in stronger rules that will benefit and protect the public.

However, the proof will be in the final outcome. Agencies are inviting public input to today’s preliminary plans. The public input process started today must not become an invitation for big business or special interests to game the system by pressuring agencies to embrace their "hit list" of regulations. That cannot be allowed to happen.

While our official analysis is forthcoming, OMB Watch has identified, in a cursory review of the plans, three areas of potential concern.

First, some agencies have included in their retrospective reviews unfinished, proposed regulations, which is troubling to say the least. The president’s Executive Order called upon agencies to review "existing significant regulations." It did not call for a review of all regulations or of rules that are in the pipeline for action. Opening the door to proposed regulations plays into the hands of special interests attempting to kill regulations targeting Wall Street and much more. The focus of the Executive Order was clearly on existing rules.

Second, both the plans and the process could be significantly more transparent. Additionally, they could allow for more meaningful public participation. Many of the plans are simply too vague to know what action an agency intends to take on a particular rule. For example, some list a specific rule but only state an intention to review the rule. Other plans are written in technical language that may not be accessible to the general public, thereby creating an advantage for those who can afford to hire subject-matter experts in order to participate. Additionally, none of the plans reviewed have a summary of the rules that can be "modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed" as required by the E.O.

Finally, there is a concern about allocation of agency resources. Many of the plans discuss multi-year processes for retrospective reviews. This comes at a time that Congress is cutting regulatory agency budgets. The result is likely to mean that the more agencies look back the less they will be able to look forward. Americans demand more from their government to protect them from harm.

An in-depth analysis of the reviews by OMB Watch is forthcoming, but the organization remains optimistic concerning the process.

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OMB Watch is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting government accountability, citizen participation in public policy decisions, and the use of fiscal and regulatory policy to serve the public interest. Find OMB Watch on Facebook and Twitter.

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