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Time for a Change at the White House (De)Regulatory Office,

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Pop Quiz: what's the most powerful government office you've never heard of?

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JL A (282)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 4:57 pm
Time for a change at the White House (de)regulatory office

By: Amit Narang

Pop Quiz: what’s the most powerful government office you’ve never heard of?

Maybe a secretive national security office or covert operations outfit? Think again. Actually the most powerful government office you’ve never heard of, according to the former head of the office, is called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, referred to as OIRA for those in the know. To be fair, many readers of this blog are probably in the know — which is a good thing, since tomorrow is the Senate confirmation hearing for the new nominee to head OIRA, Howard Shelanski.

But for those who aren’t familiar with OIRA, a little background is in order. OIRA is a small office within the Office of Management and Budget, meaning, for all intents and purposes, that it’s an extension of the White House. Its job, in a nutshell, is to review regulations from agencies and give the green light before agencies can go ahead with putting those regulations in place. Sounds pretty banal and technical, right? Not quite.

On the surface, OIRA seems like any other White House office that Republicans love to bash (particularly since this one deals with so-called “job-killing” regulations). But scratch below the surface, and you find that Republicans have actually been proposing numerous pieces of legislation in the last few years that would give much more power to this small White House office. In fact, when it comes to Republicans giving the White House more authority, it’s hard to find a better example than OIRA. If you’re like me, you’re probably starting to hear the “Twilight Zone” music somewhere in the background …

Why is this happening? Because Republicans and the Big Business interests that bankroll their campaigns believe that OIRA is their ally in seeking to stall, water down and even roll back crucial new regulatory standards.

OIRA’s recent track record, not to mention historical record, bears this out. OIRA was established in the Reagan administration to counter what Republicans saw as “overzealous regulators.” Under the Obama administration, OIRA still routinely overrides decisions from the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other agencies working to protect the public. OIRA, as it was first conceived, is working, and Republicans want to make sure it only gets stronger.

Last week, a group of prominent Congress members sent a letter to newly appointed OMB director Sylvia Burwell asking her to inform Congress of the status of rules that have been “badly delayed” by OIRA review. They rightly point out that a fundamental lack of transparency has kept the explanation for those delays hidden behind closed doors. For example, the silica rule, a crucial worker safety rule that would protect workers from exposure to a known carcinogen, has been under review at OIRA for an astonishing 814 days. What could possibly warrant such a lengthy review? Don’t bother asking anyone at OIRA … they won’t tell you.

Instead, urge HSGAC members to ask Shelanski if he’ll end the gridlock or continue to thwart life-saving regulations.

Amit Narang is the regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Jeanne Young (19)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 6:30 pm
My government SCARES me - all too often

Jae A (316)
Saturday June 15, 2013, 6:34 pm
You cannot currently send a star to JL because you have done so within the last day.

Sherri G (128)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 1:19 am
OK first American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC proposes corporate friendly legislation then the OIRA delays any regulatory legislation getting through. Thank you JL for posting this important story. I wondered what vehicle the President was using to honor Goldman Sacs and others who supported his campaign. Sounds like this is the underground the President and so called Democratic senators and representatives are using to betray their constituents. We must keep exposing then tweeting then sharing then emailing that we know their secretive process.

Kit B (276)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 6:37 am

Governments cling jealousy to their secrecy, which in turn feeds their power.

I don't honesty expect that will change, nor the idea that government by it's nature keeps secrets. Maybe rather just ask for transparency we should delineate exactly, point by point what we want to change. Once an issue is labeled "National Security, we know it will not be open to any form of transparency.

I did sign the petition (within last sentence of article) because I'm not yet a complete cynic.

Angelika R (143)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 7:42 am
I also signed that. Thx. As for the rest, sorry, i don't look through anymore, your entire administration is a labyrinth to me.. Perhaps you need some MORE regulations offices? Some to regulate the regulators of regulation offices..-?

JL A (282)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 8:05 am
You cannot currently send a star to Sherri because you have done so within the last day.
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 10:38 am
Yes I have heard of OIRA
Noted & posted

JL A (282)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 1:36 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Theodore because you have done so within the last day. Thanks for posting

Robert K (31)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 1:46 pm
Not all regulations make sense, but almost no deregulation makes sense.

One certainty is that capitalism without strict regulation always destroys itself and the country as well. And it's well on the way to destroying us now.

. (0)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 2:53 pm
Nasty business.

JL A (282)
Sunday June 16, 2013, 4:48 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last day

Alice C (1797)
Friday August 16, 2013, 2:51 pm
Image Credit: Matt H. Wade
Published on August 15th, 2013 | by Jake Richardson

White House To Finally Get Solar Panels

How many years ago was it promised that the White House would have solar panels installed on the roof? Three that seemed more like twelve. The disappointments that resulted from the unfulfilled promise were great and not at all necessary. How hard is it to get a small number of them on the roof of the White House?

Offers were made to provide the technology and installation for free, and they were ignored. Finally, the installation appears to be happening, according to the Washington Post. It’s hard to tell if this great news or just sort of a buzz kill drawn out over what seemed like a less than magical drought.

The premise behind having them installed back in the 1970s by then President Jimmy Carter was simple enough and that was the main appeal. If the number one house in America could be powered by solar, at least partly, then many members of the public might come to see they could use them too. They didn’t last too long though, because the center of American culture was a little more fossil-fuel oriented, or a lot more. Ronald Reagan was elected and he ordered the solar panels to be taken down.

They weren’t hurting anything, except our unquestioning reliance on coal and petroleum products, but Reagan didn’t like them. So, flash forward several decades, and it seemed like it was a slam dunk that new solar panels should be quickly added to the White House roof. This view only seemed sensible considering the 2008 Obama campaign was presented as an urgent activism to restore hope to the country. The spirit of it was change in the form of new policies that were supposed to give power back to the people, and remove it from the huge corporations and lobbyists that had become far too dominant.

In the end, we got more rhetoric than action, as we might have expected. That it took so long to complete a fairly simple project, only has underscored that action has been on the short side in some aspects of the current two-term administration. Speeches made about climate change might been a little more credible if the commitment to greening the White House had been stronger.

Image Credit: Matt H. Wade

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