WASHINGTON - January 10 - A recent White House proposal threatens federal agency efforts to provide important information to the public and stakeholders, by opening guidance documents to politicization and industry influence, a coalition of public interest groups told the White House today.
Citizens for Sensible Safeguards, a coalition of labor, environmental, consumer, and human needs organizations, filed comments on the Proposed Bulletin on Good Guidance Practices, issued in November by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The bulletin purports to make agency guidance documents "more transparent, consistent, and accountable" by setting new requirements that include high-level review by senior agency staff of any guidance document deemed "significant" and a lengthy review and approval process for "economically significant" guidance.
The bulletin fails to solve the problem OMB claims it addresses, the coalition members argue. OMB contends the bulletin is needed because agencies are announcing new requirements in guidance documents instead of regulations. The coalition members maintain, however, that instead of "making guidance as burdensome and draining on agency resources as the rulemaking process has become," OMB should remove obstacles in the regulatory process. They point out that onerous requirements created by recent legislation and executive orders have led to "paralysis by analysis," citing for example OSHA's recent record of needing over five years to create a new health standard, a process that 30 years ago took roughly six months.
The comments also find the proposal's "one-size-fits-all" approach inappropriate for the vast array of agency documents that address wide ranging public needs. "The amorphous definitions in the White House proposal put an enormous range of agency information at risk," explains Robert Shull, regulatory policy director for OMB Watch, a government watchdog and member of the coalition. "The bulletin could apply to everything from handbooks to advisory opinions to databases of chemical information--even National Weather Service heat advisories and USDA recommendations about when meat is thoroughly cooked."
Other examples cited in the comments include Superfund cleanup instructions and Labor Department guidelines for biohazardous shipment labeling.
The requirement that "economically significant" guidance documents be subject to a lengthy public comment process represents, according to the coalition, a White House power grab that contradicts Congress's role in delegating discretion to federal agencies. "Congress has had 60 years to consider across-the-board, one-size-fits-all policies of the type OMB is proposing," the coalition comments argue. "The sixtieth anniversary of the [Administrative Procedure Act] may be an occasion to consider how the law is working and even how it can be improved, but it is not time to rewrite the law unconstitutionally by executive pronouncement."
"The proposal is an unacceptable plan," Shull adds, "that would have the exact opposite effect of its intended purpose, ultimately creating a system that is less responsive to the needs of the public."
The coalition's complete comments are available at www.ombwatch.org/regs/whitehouse/guidance.
Information on the Citizens for Sensible Safeguards coalition is available at www.sensiblesafeguards.org.