By Rachel Leven - 11/28/11 06:27 PM EST
Administration involvement in the work of regulators has increased since President Obama took office, according to a study from a liberal think tank.
The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) report released Monday claims Obama officials have changed more regulations than the administration of George W. Bush.
While the Bush administration altered 64 percent of regulations it reviewed, the Obama administration has changed 76 percent, the study found.
“President Obama promised to free government from the grip of special interests, but instead he’s opened the White House doors wide to industry lobbyists seeking to block needed health and safety protections, further politicizing the regulatory process” said report co-author and CPR President Rena Steinzor in a statement.
The study accuses the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of overstepping its boundaries by needlessly stalling and altering regulations. The CPR report claims OIRA is also disproportionately focused on the regulations coming out of the Environmental Protection Agency.
OIRA spokeswoman Meg Reilly declined to comment on the report but defended the agency’s work in an email to The Hill.
“The review process is facilitated by [the Office of Management and Budget], but there are many agencies involved and any improvements made to rules are the reflection of rigorous interagency analysis and discussion. The result is more effective, cost-justified, science-based rules,” she wrote.
“I don’t think anyone believes that, at a time when we need to support economic recovery and job creation with smarter rulemaking, we should weaken regulatory analysis."
Steinzor said the study shows the Obama administration is running roughshod over federal regulators.
“The sad reality here is that the president appointed strong leaders to the environmental, health, and safety agencies, but has undermined them over and over by allowing OIRA to substitute its judgment for the expertise of the agencies,” Steinzor said in a statement.
“Those agencies have an exhaustive process where all parties get to present their case — in public — about how a regulation should be designed, but the White House has subverted it.”
The Center’s study says evidence of heavy-handedness by the administration can be found in OIRA’s meeting records. The study tallied up 1,080 meetings at the agency about “regulatory proposals and finals rules” from Oct. 16, 2001 to June 1, 2011.
Of the 5,759 outside individuals who attended those meetings, the study found, 65 percent of the participants “represented regulated industry interests.” Twelve percent of the presenters were public interest group representatives.
Approximately 73 percent of proposed or final rule reviews included meetings with only industry, versus 16 percent of rule reviews that included “participation by both industry and public interest groups,” CPR found.
“[Meeting with everyone who asks] serves instead to provide endless opportunities for industry groups to promote their interests in an influential forum, most of the time without scrutiny or opposition from public interest groups,” the study said, referring to OIRA’s “all you can meet” guidelines.
CPR also accused OIRA of stalling regulations by routinely missing deadlines. Approximately 59 rules of 501 review processes had an evaluation period of longer than the allotted 120 days, the study found, and 22 rules were under review for more than 180 days.
“Indeed, these delays are not merely frustrating or inconvenient; they permit ongoing hazards to go unabated (pollution, dangerous work conditions, food contamination) on a daily basis,” the center said.
The report says EPA has been turned into the “whipping boy” of OIRA, receiving the brunt of all OIRA changes and meetings.
The agency accounts for 11 percent of all OIRA reviews, but 41 percent of all meetings in the last decade. Both the Obama and Bush administrations held “disproportionate” amounts of meetings for EPA rules, CPR says.
The agency’s rules were also changed more than other agencies' rules over the decade. Eighty-four percent of EPA rules were changed over the 10-year period.
“Ultimately, OIRA’s ‘all you can meet’ policy permits industry groups with resources to spare to browbeat EPA rules — their favorite target — with a predictably constant stream of meetings,” CPR said.