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OMB Proposal Aims for Sound Scientific Basis for Federal Regulations

Under a proposal by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the nation’s home builders could get a break from having to contend with regulations that are based on shoddy scientific research.

The OMB proposal would require all scientific studies used by federal agencies to make regulatory decisions — including everything from environmental protection to energy efficiency to occupational safety and health standards — to be reviewed by independent experts to ensure that they are valid.

Ensuring that all new regulations are based on sound science and adequately justified by scientific findings has been a top goal of NAHB’s advocacy efforts.

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Under the peer reviews proposed by OMB, experts in a given field would rigorously review and critique the scientific methods, assumptions and conclusions of others in their field.

While a good deal of the science behind important governmental policies is currently submitted to peer review, that process often lacks adequate independence and it can be difficult to see how a study arrives at its conclusions, according to Bruce Lundegren, regulatory counsel for NAHB.

The OMB proposal would supplement the Information Quality Guidelines issued by the office last year, which encourage but do not require peer review.

These “Data Quality Guidelines,” as they are commonly known, establish quality standards for all information “disseminated by the federal government.” All information published, released, used or relied on by federal agencies must meet rigorous new quality standards before that information can be released.

Higher quality standards apply to influential information that affects important public policy or private sector decisions. The public also has the right to challenge information that does not meet these standards.

In addition to peer review of scientific information that is used to determine regulatory policies, OMB has now proposed much more rigorous requirements for “especially significant regulatory science.” This would include studies that support major federal regulations, including those that are likely to have an annual economic impact of $100 million or more, have significant interagency interest or support important White House priorities.

Studies that fall into this “especially significant” category would have to include a plan for the peer review of information well in advance. Federal agencies would have to plan for the selection of peer reviewers, establish their qualifications and specify the panel’s charge.

The process would also be required to allow for public review of, and comment on, both the peer review plan and the information that the panel will review.

Finally, the agency would be required to issue a report at the conclusion of the peer review process summarizing the findings of the panel, whether and why the agency agrees with those findings and how the agency addressed any significant disagreements.

The OMB proposal on peer review was published in the Federal Register On Sept. 15. For additional information, e-mail Bruce Lundegren at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8305.

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