Unions, watchdogs press Obama pick to end secrecy on regulations

The Coalition of Sensible Safeguards is comprised of more than 140 national and local unions and nonprofit organizations, including the Washington-based Public Citizen and the Center for Effective Government.

The group has been wary of how OMB and the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) scrutinize the rules coming out of federal agencies, and says Burwell has an opportunity to change the way the office operates.

“Too often,” the group wrote, “OMB exercises [its] power in an opaque process, is overly influenced by corporations and allows politics to undermine the integrity of agency science that forms the basis of some vital safeguards.”

Although regulators must seek public comment on proposals, the White House and other federal departments keep most of the regulatory process tightly guarded, even as deadlines are missed.

The White House has gone over the 90-day review period for more than half of the 145 rules and proposals currently waiting approval. A regulation to limit the amount of silica dust workers can inhale has been sitting, for example, since 2011.

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards says the holdups are costly and due to “duplicative” research.

“Important standards — such as those safeguarding food, water and workplaces — should be implemented quickly and without costly, duplicative analyses,” the group wrote. “Senators should ask OMB’s proposed new leader if the office will respect the scientific expertise of federal agencies in the rulemaking process and uphold federal laws with lifesaving public protections.”

Burwell worked at OMB during the Clinton administration, but has spent more than a decade at charitable organizations. She was president of the global development program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has been the president of the Walmart Foundation since last January.