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OIRA Has Increased The Transparency Of Its Agency Reviews
OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has long reviewed proposed agency rules under Executive Order 12866 and its predecessor Executive Order 12291. Two Democratic members of Congress-Senator Lieberman and Senator Durbin-asked the Government Accounting Office to investigate and report on the current status of OIRA's rule reviews. The GAO's report may be a surprise to the senators and a number of others who have been critical of OIRA. The report found that OIRA had actually increased the transparency of its rule reviews. In other words, OIRA's review of proposed agency rules has become more open to the public under the current Administration. Most important, the current OIRA has made substantial progress toward providing important rule-review information available on the Internet. This makes tracking OIRA rule reviews much easier for those who do not live in Washington. In addition, the GAO found that the current OIRA reviews rules in a more timely manner than in previous Administrations.

The GAO report did make two suggestions for change in the long-standing OIRA rule review process. First, the GAO found that some individual agencies were not keeping up with OIRA with respect to transparency. OIRA's response to the GAO report noted that the Administration's E-Rulemaking initiative should go a long way to solving this problem. OIRA explained that "the initiative will consolidate each agency's public docket into a government-wide docket easily accessible by the public. Ultimately, the system may save as much as $100 million and make it easier for businesses and the public to access the rulemaking process."

The GAO also made several other suggested changes, all of which basically amount to an overall suggestion that all rule-review communications between OIRA and individual agencies be made public. OIRA correctly rejected this suggestion because it would have a chilling effect on inter-agency deliberation and debate. There is a reason why documents reflecting pre-decisional, inter-agency deliberations are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Agency staff and officials will be far less likely to state their minds candidly during wholly inter-agency discussions if they know that someone with an ax to grind will be looking over their shoulders.

  • Click here for GAO's Report "OMB's Role in Reviews of Agencies' Draft Rules and the Transparency of Those Reviews," and for OIRA's response to the Report.
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