White House regulatory office on autopilot?

It was unclear Tuesday who was running the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the White House’s gatekeeper for the stream of federal rules pouring out of federal agencies.

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Officials at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) were either unwilling or unable to say who is directing the regulatory office, despite repeated requests for information over the last two days.

Acting administrator Boris Bershteyn has led OIRA since August, when Cass Sunstein departed. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, an “acting” officer can only hold a position requiring Senate confirmation for 210 days unless a confirmation process is under way.

That statutory limit passed earlier this week. As of Tuesday, Bershteyn was no longer listed as acting administrator for the office on OIRA’s web site. Bershteyn, who previously served as general counsel at OMB, is not considered a candidate for the administrator position.

While not a Cabinet-level job, the OIRA administrator has significant influence over the rulemaking process. Thwarted on some fronts by the divided Congress, President Obama has said his administration would use executive authority – which includes the power to enact federal rules – to further an aggressive second-term policy agenda.

That is likely to translate to more clout for the administration’s next regulatory chief. In the meantime, the administration continues to churn out regulations. On Tuesday, there were 107 newly posted regulations, according to Regulations.gov.