The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has come under fire from Congressmen tired of the perceived veil of secrecy that has left regulations languishing, sometimes for years, with little or no explanation.
According to the report Length of Rule Reviews by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, commissioned by theAdministrative Conference of the United States (ACUS),average reviews times were 51 days between 1994 and 2011. “Since 2011, however, average OIRA review completion times have trended significantly upward, to 79 days in 2012 and 140 days in the first half of 2013,” the report notes.
Among the regulatory work delayed were rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act and Obama Care, new limits on workers’ exposure to a cancer-causing dust and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts on gasoline and waterways.
Senior agency employees told the said they believed the delays were triggered by “concerns in the Executive Office of the President about the issuance of potentially costly or otherwise controversial rules during an election, coordinative reviews by other agencies and offices… and a reluctance by OIRA to use return letters.” A staffing decrease also may have contributed, they added. They also noted that the review process has become more complicated as the regulations have become increasingly complex and transparency and procedural requirements have grown more demanding.
There are signs of progress, however. Reviews, by law, are supposed to be completed within 90 days and, with written approval, may be extended by no more than 30 days. The report highlighted shorter review periods in response to Congressional pressure to implement additional health and safety regulations. For example, the number of reviews lasting more than six months fell 55 percent between January and September 2013 and the number of agency rules under review was slashed nearly in half between March and mid-September. Part of the progress may be attributed to the mandatory institution of informal reviews before agency officials may submit formal proposals – a situation the White House calls “troubling.” Congressional hearings have been called for when Congress returns in 2014.