Obama’s regs chief: We’re not setting policy

The Obama administration’s regulatory czar on Monday said his office is simply vetting policy changes, not directing them, and new rules will lead to billions of dollars in benefits.

The president’s regulatory program has drawn fire from both conservatives, who say the administration is guilty of overregulation, and liberals, who cite delays in long-sought health and safety protections.

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At the center of the tussle is the small but influential Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the White House’s clearinghouse for major federal rules.

Speaking Monday at the Washington headquarters of the left-leaning Public Citizen, OIRA Administrator Howard Shelanski defended Obama administration regulations, saying they generated net economic benefits approaching $160 billion over the president’s first term.

Shelanski said he anticipated $25 billion in net benefits for fiscal 2014.

"The administration has tried to be very clear that it is trying to do more to regulate in ways that help the environment — that puts in place needed safety and health and welfare regulations — but that it does so in a common-sense way that’s consistent with the business community's ability to grow and expand and move our economy forward," Shelanski said.

“I think business is always going to be critical — no matter how few rules we have, no matter how good those rules are — of anything that requires them to undertake a cost,” he said.

But Shelanski pushed back against assertions that OIRA is using its authority to impose policy preferences by declining to release regulations, even in cases in which Congress has set a deadline.

Rather, he said OIRA is striving to carefully weigh costs and benefits of draft rules submitted to the office.

“We don’t set agencies’ policy agendas,” Shelanski said, adding that the office staff of roughly 40 can only review 500-600 of more than 3,000 rules now in the pipeline at agencies across the federal apparatus.

He said the agency is committed to end a series of delays in the administration’s twice-yearly release of the governmentwide rule-making agenda and is seeking to clear rules within 90 days after agencies submit them for review.

The latter effort, however, is not feasible for all regulations.

“That’s a nice goal,” Shelanski said, “but one size doesn’t fit all."