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Report: 'Raw' Politics Guides White House Meddling

By Paul Scicchitano   |   Monday, 28 Nov 2011 11:19 PM

A new report by a liberal think tank accuses the Obama administration of increased meddling with respect to the nation’s regulatory system as compared to the administration of President George W. Bush.

The 90-page report released Monday by The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) finds that the Obama administration changed 76 percent of the regulations it reviewed as compared to 64 percent by the Bush Administration.
“The Obama Administration has further entrenched a regulatory system in which White House officials trump agency expertise with decisions based on raw politics,” declares CPR President Rena Steinzor.

Despite selecting what she described as “experienced and well-respected appointees,” the Obama administration has consistently subverted the normal rule-making process of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration through the little-known Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), according to Steinzor.

“Centralized White House regulatory review shoves policymaking behind closed doors, wastes increasingly limited government resources, confuses agency priorities, demoralizes civil servants, and, worst of all, costs the nation dearly in lost lives, avoidable illness and injury, and destruction of irreplaceable natural resources,” Steinzor adds.

The report says that Cass Sunstein, who heads OIRA, instructed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to abandon efforts to tighten smog regulations as an example of White House meddling.

“By the beginning of the third year of President Obama’s first term, it became clear that the administration was determined to use OIRA as the leading edge of its political efforts to placate big business in an effort to neutralize its attacks on the administration in general and its regulatory policies in specific,” the report states.

CPR says its results were gleaned from an “exhaustive” six-month analysis of the “barebones” information OIRA published on the Web regarding 1,080 meetings held over a ten-year period — from October 2001 to June 2011.

The meetings involved 5,759 outside lobbyists, 65 percent of whom represented industry and 12 percent of whom represented public interest groups.

“The results were shocking even to us, long-time and admittedly jaded observers of OIRA’s one-way ratchet toward weakening public health and other protections,” insists Steinzor.

Meg Reilly, an OIRA spokeswoman, told The Hill that many agencies are involved in the review process and that any “improvements” to rules reflect rigorous interagency analysis and discussion.

“I don’t think anyone believes that, at a time when we need to support economic recovery and job creation with smarter rulemaking, we should weaken regulatory analysis," said Reilly.

The CPR report states that rules were 29 percent more likely to be changed once they were the subject of meetings by OIRA, and that EPA rules were changed at a significantly higher rate — 84 percent — than those of other agencies over the 10-year period.

OIRA, pronounced "oh-eye-ruh" was established by Congress in the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act. It is staffed by both political appointees and career civil servants under the Office of Management and Budget. One of its duties is to review draft regulations.

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