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A recent report from a liberal, pro-regulation advocacy group in Washington, D.C., has focused unwarranted criticism on a little known federal government department responsible for ensuring that proposed regulatory actions that would impose $100 million or more in annual costs are scientifically valid, legally defensible and ultimately cost-effective.
Created by the Clinton Administration's Executive Order 12866 in 1993 to serve during the federal rulemaking process as the regulatory arbiter between the White House and federal agencies, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) — within the Office of Management and Budget — has drawn the ire of environmentalist and regulatory advocates due to a string of decisions by the Obama White House they believe have overly and inappropriately addressed the concerns of affected industries instead of protecting the needs of society.
Once an agency has developed a proposed rule, the draft of the rule and all of its supporting documentation are sent to OIRA for review.
OIRA studies the documents to ensure the regulation is consistent with the applicable requirements.
During the OIRA review process, affected industries, trade associations, environmental groups and members of the public can request a meeting with the office and federal agency staff.
A report released in December by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) — “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety and the Environment” — claims that OIRA is being used by politically connected industries, law firms and trade associations to wield disproportionate influence during the federal regulatory process.
Contrary to the report's assertions, NAHB's efforts working with OIRA have demonstrated that the office is playing a valuable role in the regulatory process by helping to eliminate unnecessary regulatory costs and burdens.
As an example of how the Obama Administration and OIRA have been swayed to roll back environmental regulations, the CPR report cites NAHB’s success in convincing the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its controversial lead-based paint (LBP) post-construction lead dust clearance testing requirement.
That rule would have required all remodelers, builders and contractors working in homes built before 1978 to have third-party firms conduct LBP dust clearance testing following the conclusion of most renovation activities — such as window or door replacements, sanding and painting.
The EPA’s own economic analysis found that the testing would cost $400 million annually but would have little or no material effect on the health or safety of the homes' occupants.
During NAHB’s board meeting last spring, association members and staff met with OIRA, the White House and EPA representatives to present data on the economic impact of the proposed rule on small businesses and home owners and the minimal benefit that would be realized.
OIRA was merely doing its job when, after reviewing the facts, it convinced the EPA to withdraw the rule.
Over the years, NAHB has met with OIRA to discuss a number of rulemakings — including the silica rule, the preliminary musculoskeletal rule, guidance on the waters of the U.S., the lead paint rule and effluent limitation guidelines.
In fact, in its list of the top 15 Washington, D.C.-based trade associations meeting most frequently with OIRA over the past decade, the CPR report ranked NAHB in fifth place.
It is unclear to what extent the CPR report will put public pressure on the current Administration to stop modifying federal regulations to address industry concerns.
In the meantime, the report does demonstrate how NAHB has successfully utilized the federal regulatory review process under Executive Order 12866 to appeal to both the Bush and Obama administrations to follow their guidelines to ensure that rules are necessary, sicentifically justified, legally defensible and cost-effective — and, if not, to modify or withdraw them.
For more information, email Michael Mittelholzer at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8660.