Administration issues regulatory road map

The Obama administration released its fall regulatory agenda Tuesday, detailing hundreds of federal rules now in the works at scores of agencies across the federal government.

For the third consecutive time, the White House Office of Management and Budget posted the administration’s Unified Agenda within days of a holiday weekend, when media coverage is typically less and many people are on vacation.

But the document’s release is also more timely this time around, following criticism over delays in 2012 and earlier this year.

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Federal regulators have a statutory obligation to release the rule-making agenda in the spring and fall — historically in April and October — that details the plans and anticipated deadlines over a 12-month period.  The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posts all the agency agendas on its website.

The relative timeliness of the agenda could be due to Howard Shelanski, the new head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), who has pledged to reduce delays at the White House.

“Since Shelanski has been confirmed as the new OIRA administrator, OIRA has been much better on moving forward and reducing the backlog of rules,” said Katie Weatherford, a regulatory policy analyst with the Center for Effective Government. “It’s nice to see that it’s come out in a more timely manner.”

“I guess we would hope to see that he continues to move forward and move those forthcoming rules that are in the agenda through the process also in a timely and open manner,” she added.  



The Obama administration missed the spring deadline this year for the second consecutive time, drawing fire from congressional Republicans and business groups, who contend they need to know what rules they would have to comply with in the future. 



Last year, the administration released just one agenda – which came out in late December, after the November elections and days before the holidays. The spring agenda was released the day before the Fourth of July.

“The publication dates have been pretty conspicuous,” said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at the conservative leaning American Action Forum.

A cursory look revealed no major surprises. Many of the regulations listed in the agenda have been long in the works, because it can take many years for an agency to finalize a rule.
 
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has worked on a standard to limit workers’ exposure to combustible dust, for instance, since 2009. In its new agenda, the agency indicates that it is planning to initiate a panel to explore the rule’s impacts on small businesses in April.
 
The Labor Department is also planning to propose new rules attempting to limit investment advisers’ conflicts of interests in August 2014. The rule was originally expected this October, but has been pushed back.
 
The agency’s effort to write those rules has come under fire from Republicans, business groups and some minority organizations. They worry that the regulations could restrict advisers from working with average investors’ individual retirement accounts, which may have an especially damaging impact on disadvantaged communities.  
 
In March, the department is planning to propose rules to make sure gay spouses are covered by provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take unpaid time off for family and medical emergencies. The regulation is a response to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Once again, financial regulators are signaling a busy year ahead as they work to complete many rules in accordance with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform Act. The Securities and Exchange Commission alone listed close to 40 regulations on its agenda, with more than half in the final rulemaking stage.

Among them are contentious provisions, the completion of a rule requiring firms to disclose information about executive pay, as compared to rank-and-file employees.

The SEC is also considering proposing a rule next October that would require companies show the “relationship” between what executives are paid and firms’ financial performance.
 
Many regulations have also been pushed back.
 
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was originally planning to propose in April that it has the authority to regulate new types of tobacco like cigars and e-cigarettes the same way it oversees traditional cigarettes. Those draft rules are now expected out in December.
 
Another contested FDA rule, called for by the Affordable Care Act, will require chain restaurants and vending machines to post the number of calories in each of their foods. FDA head Margaret Hamburg said this month that rule was more “complicated” than she originally expected.
 
Those final regulations were previously anticipated in September. Now they won’t be out until February, according to the administration’s road map.

This story was updated at 12:27 p.m.