Executive Order Gives White House More Regulatory Power

Few people may have noticed, but the White House recently handed down a decree that may have significant effects on several areas of federal regulation in the United States. Last week, President George W. Bush issued new amendments to Executive Order 12866 on Regulatory Planning and Review, and critics fear that the move is simply a power grab aimed at protecting the interests of industry and commerce.

Specifically, the amendments expand the power of the White House’s Office of Information on Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). There are three major aspects to the changes. First, the President has expanded OIRA oversight to include “guidance documents” in addition to regulations. Secondly, the new Executive Order now includes specific language related to “market failures”–in other words, it forces federal agencies to become more reliant on free-market forces to correct regulatory problems. Finally, it calls for federal regulatory agencies to consider “the combined aggregate costs and benefits of all its regulations planned for that calendar year to assist with the identification of priorities.”

The new changes can affect regulation of food and drugs, public health, occupational safety, the environment, and anything else that the federal government oversees. Yet, many administration detractors see the changes as nothing more than a way to shield big business from regulatory scrutiny.

“By requiring White House approval of important guidance, the White House will insert its political agenda and pro-business bias into every level of agency policy, so that our federal government will handcuff itself instead of the companies that violate the law and put the public in danger,” said Robert Shull, deputy director for auto safety and regulatory policy at Washington, D.C., watchdog Public Citizen.

Adds Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen: “These cost/benefit analyses are notoriously biased against regulation, especially long-term goals such as preventing global warming or cancers that manifest years after exposure to toxic substances. The upshot of this whole executive order is that the White House is already working to undermine not just agencies but also the new Congress’ ability to protect the public.”

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