Mineta's rules rejected most often

In the past four years, the White House has rejected nearly as many Department of Transportation regulations as those of all other departments combined, according to administration records.

The close scrutiny the White House has given to the department could lead some to believe that the Bush administration is paying close attention to the regulatory agenda of the only department run by a Democrat, Secretary Norman Mineta. But a transportation lobbyist said Mineta’s relationship with the White House has been good, adding that the regulatory scrutiny placed on the department is very likely not related to Mineta’s party affiliation.
In the past four years, the White House has rejected nearly as many Department of Transportation regulations as those of all other departments combined, according to administration records.

The close scrutiny the White House has given to the department could lead some to believe that the Bush administration is paying close attention to the regulatory agenda of the only department run by a Democrat, Secretary Norman Mineta. But a transportation lobbyist said Mineta’s relationship with the White House has been good, adding that the regulatory scrutiny placed on the department is very likely not related to Mineta’s party affiliation.
 
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Of 22 return letters, which are sent when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “believes that the rulemaking would benefit from further consideration by the agency,” 10 were sent to Transportation; no other agency received more than four. Transportation oversees 13 agencies and departments, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.

Transportation spokesman Brian Turmail said that only slightly more than 5 percent of rules submitted to OMB have been returned under Mineta’s watch. He added that Mineta, in an effort to better protect the public, has aggressively reduced the backlog of rules he inherited from the Clinton administration, which has increased the number of regulations sent to OMB.

In addition to the large number of return letters, the department also accounts for half of the eight so-called “post-review letters” the administration has sent out. These letters are submitted after an OMB review of proposed rules and outline specific concerns or questions the White House has regarding the regulation.
Mineta is on the list of Cabinet members who could leave in the near future. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao are said to be interested in his job.

But the transportation lobbyist speculated that Mineta might want to stay on the job until the highway bill has been signed into law. That legislation is expected to move early next year.

Some on Capitol Hill expect President Bush to have one Democrat in his Cabinet during his second term, but that is not certain. If a Democrat accepts a Bush nomination, it’s possible that the nominee would negotiate how much authority he or she would have.

The OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is tasked with evaluating regulations and proposed regulations and, if necessary, returning them to an agency for reconsideration. Reasons for sending proposed regulations back include that they are “not consistent … with the President’s policies and priorities” if their analyses are inadequate and that they are not compatible with executive orders or statutes.

Specific criticisms of Transportation rules include that the department did not adequately consider a regulation’s impact on small businesses. In the return letter regarding a rule on a tire-pressure monitoring system, OIRA said the department did not show that it “selected the best available method of achieving the regulatory objective.” Yet another rule was returned because OIRA believed there was a problem with the cost-benefit analysis.

In the most recent return letter, OIRA Administrator John Graham criticizes Transportation for not having addressed concerns the White House had voiced before. In a pointed letter to Transportation Deputy General Counsel Rosalind Knapp, Graham said that the department “still has not provided adequate analytic justification for many of the rule’s provisions.”

“In addition, there are fundamental policy differences that have not been resolved in the review period and require additional time and consideration,” Graham said. In a previous letter on the same regulation, Graham said the rule would be more expensive than the department had anticipated. “Unfortunately, the quality of [the Maritime Administration’s] supporting regulatory analysis for this rule does not permit adequate analysis of these issues.”

OMB Press Secretary Chad Kolton said the numbers of return letters sent to Transportation relative to other agencies is coincidence “and not related to the quality or complexity of the department’s draft [regulations],” adding, “We see plenty of good proposals” from Transportation.

While Transportation rules were most often returned in 2001, the first year of the administration, four of the eight rules turned back since the beginning of 2002 were department regulations.