Lifesaving protections vanishing down regulatory ‘rabbit hole,’ study says

It comes a day before President Obama’s nominee to head that office — considered the gatekeeper for the steady stream of rules emanating from executive branch agencies — is set to appear at a Senate confirmation hearing.

OIRA’s administrator position has been vacant since last summer, and the coalition is seizing upon Howard Shelanski’s confirmation proceedings to shine a light on a sampling of eight stalled federal rules.

“Unreasonable delay has left five of the eight stuck in the ‘rabbit hole’ of prolonged review at OIRA,” the report contends. “A regulatory system plagued by delay and stymied by the special interests of regulated industries can not effectively protect the American people.”

Among the highlighted regulations is a proposed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standard for motor vehicles’ rear visibility. The rule is based on 2008 legislation signed by then-President George W. Bush. The law set a 2011 deadline to finalize a rearview safety rule that is still under review at OIRA.

Meanwhile, there are almost 300 fatalities and 18,000 injuries annually from back-over collisions, according to the report. According to NHTSA, both numbers would be cut by more than half if the rule were finalized.

The report also looks at regulations limiting construction workers’ exposure to harmful silica dust, increasing oversight of imported food and giving minimum wage and overtime rights to home care workers, as well as rules involving the environment and the financial sector.

The coalition lays out a set of recommendations for Congress aimed at speeding up the regulatory process and making it more transparent.

The suggested measures aim to tamp down on lobbyists' ability to block rules, force OIRA to provide understandable explanations when proposed rules are changed, cut unnecessary delays and shut the "revolving door" between regulated industries and government, according to the report.

"The safety of our food, the safety of the cars we drive, and the ability of consumers to make sound financial decisions is at stake when public protections are delayed," said report co-author Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and senior counsel at the Consumer Federation of America.

The coalition includes consumer groups, labor unions, scientific and environmental organizations, and other public interest groups.