White House Slowed Rules in Election Year, Advisory Body Says

By Sandrine Rastello | December 17, 2013

The Obama administration last year took longer than normal to clear rules ranging from environment protection to food safety, a shift that an advisory body says may have been politically motivated.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which reviews significant federal rules before they are enacted, took an average 79 days to complete assessments in 2012 and 140 days in the first half of 2013, according to a report by the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent federal agency dedicated to improving government operations. That compares with an average review period of 50 days for the 1994-2011 period, the agency said.

“Several of the senior agency employees indicated that OIRA reviews took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election,” according to the report, which cited interviews of 14 people at 11 cabinet departments and agencies that have experienced review delays.

“The employees said their agencies were instructed that such rules were not to be issued unless deemed absolutely necessary — e.g., a judicial deadline — or if it could be shown they were not controversial — e.g., clear net benefits.”

OIRA is part of the Office of Management and Budget, an agency within the Executive Office of the President.

‘Complex Rules’

“OMB works as expeditiously as possible to review rules, but when it comes to complex rules with significant potential impact, we take the time needed to get them right,” spokeswoman Emily Cain said in an e-mailed statement.“Our goal is not to move rules hastily, but to maximize the effectiveness and benefit of the rules we complete.”

One anonymous employee interviewed in the report said “political sensitivities about rule making reached new heights during 2012, and some rules that had been completely uncontroversial in the past were delayed for weeks at OIRA.” Among regulations left pending last year were food safety measures such as the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, which the report said was under review from Nov. 2011 to July 2013. Other regulations not issued as of June 30 this year included rules on workers’ exposure to silica, a “chemicals of concern” list, and clean water protection guidance, according to the report.

Overseas Food

In July, the Food and Drug Administration released a proposal that would require food brought into the U.S. to meet the same safety standards as domestic products, more than two years after the Food Safety Modernization Act signed by President Barack Obama in January 2011.

The report, cited in a Washington Post story yesterday, identifies other potential reasons for the longer review periods, including lengthy request from OIRA desk officers, OIRA staffing issues and a lack of review time limit when OIRA asks agencies to request an extension.

Cass Sunstein, OIRA administrator from September 2009 until August 2012, declined via e-mail to comment on the study. While in office, he said President Obama’s regulatory review program had identified more than $10 billion in projected savings.

(Editors: David Ellis, Carlos Torres)

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