Two recent reports say the White House delayed various federal rules because of concerns about their impact during the 2012 presidential campaign. Whatever caused the regulatory logjam in 2012, there are signs it’s now broken. That means more new regulations for businesses. The title of an article published Dec. 14, 2013, in The Washington Post lays it out: “White House delayed enacting rules ahead of 2012 election to avoid controversy.”
The Post interviewed four Obama administration political appointees and three career officials. They said some agencies were told to hold off submitting proposals for new regulations for up to a year to avoid controversy during the 2012 presidential election.
Among the delayed rules: OSHA’s revision of its silica standard, including an updated, lower permissible exposure limit. The Obama administration denies the delays were political.
A similar report comes from the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), an independent agency that advises the federal government on regulatory issues. The ACUS report states:
“Several of the senior agency employees indicated OIRA (Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) reviews took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election. 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.”
You might think, doesn’t this happen with every presidential administration when an incumbent seeks a second term? The ACUS report affirms that, but it also states that some believe political sensitivity about rulemaking reached new heights during 2012.
OIRA is supposed to complete its reviews of proposed regulations within 90 days. For the Department of Labor (DOL), which houses OSHA and MSHA, the average number of days to complete a review was 106 in 2011, 110 in 2012 and 117 in 2013.
Overall, DOL was identified by ACUS as one of the agencies that substantially exceeded the average review time during the 2011-2013 period. Also on that list: EPA and the Department of Transportation (DOT).
As of June 30, 2013, ACUS counted 38 regulations that had been at OIRA for more than one year. The silica regulation was on that list, but it’s since been released by OIRA. Still on the list: an OSHA proposal on Electric Power Transmission and Distribution, and an MSHA proposed rule on Proximity Detection Systems for Mobile Machines in Underground Mines.
Delays going away now
ACUS notes that OIRA has been making progress on its backlog of regulations in 2013. And The Post reports that the addition of Democratic strategist John Podesta as a senior White House adviser is likely to accelerate the number of new rules. Podesta has been a longtime proponent for using executive branch action to achieve the administration’s goals despite congressional opposition.
For more information on what’s in OSHA’s regulatory pipeline, see our recent coverage.