Trump's regulatory freeze in full force

Trump's regulatory freeze in full force
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President Trump’s regulatory freeze is in full effect. 

Federal agencies are following orders to delay the rules that Obama administration officials finalized before leaving office but that have not yet taken effect. 

This week alone, the Department of Health and Human Services delayed two rules: one to protect the privacy of alcohol and drug abusers who seek treatment, and a second to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protect against the introduction, transmission and spread of communicable diseases like Ebola and the Zika virus.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission delayed a rule it finalized two days before the inauguration requiring federal agencies to enact hiring policies that favor individuals with disabilities.


Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration delayed new safety rules for commuter trains, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture delayed news standards for how animals should be treated if the farmer wishes to sell the meat as certified organic.   

Trump’s regulatory freeze began with a government-wide memo that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus sent on Jan. 20. The memo advised agency heads to delay rules that had already been published for at least 60 days, pushing most rules back until March 21.

The effect of Trump’s orders has been noticeable in the Federal Register, the daily docket where new and proposed regulations from government agencies are published. 

Before Trump took office, the register would often include dozens of regulations at various stages of completion. 

Now the docket is short and mostly includes notices about public meetings.

Though Priebus’s memo told agencies not to issue any new rules, the order did not apply to every agency.  

Sophie Miller, a senior policy analyst at George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, noted that agencies independent of the White House — like the Federal Communications Commission — are still churning out rules. 

“Executive orders are not thought to apply to independent agencies,” she said. 

Final rules from agencies under Trump’s purview, however, still face the threat of being overturned under the Congressional Review Act, which gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to repeal a regulation after it’s finalized. 

The House has already passed over a dozen resolutions to repeal rules; three have made it through the Senate and two have been signed by the president. 

Going forward, the Trump administration could ultimately decide to make changes to the rules that have been delayed, but to do so, the agency would have to go through the rulemaking process all over again, Miller said.

While a regulatory freeze is common for new administrations, public health and safety advocates fear the Trump administration is gearing up for a broader attack on the rulemaking process.

“It’s part of a pattern of taking on the rulemaking process in any way they can,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division. 

Public Citizen is one of three groups suing to block Trump’s so-called one-in-two-out rule. That executive order, signed Jan. 30, requires agencies to revoke two regulations for every new rule they want to issue.

Gilbert pointed to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision earlier this month to take a fresh look at its CEO pay ratio disclosure rule as proof the administration is using every avenue to walk back regulations. 

The controversial mandate, finalized in August of 2015 but starting this year, requires companies to publicly disclose how much more money CEOs make than their employees. Democrats required that rule in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in an attempt to shed light on income inequality.  

In a statement, SEC acting Chairman Michael Piwowar said some companies “have begun to encounter unanticipated compliance difficulties that may hinder them in meeting the reporting deadline.”

Republicans and businesses hotly contested the rule, arguing that it was too costly and forced companies to disclose information that’s useless to investors.

Piwowar is now giving the public 45 days to submit comments on the rule to better understand the difficulties companies are having.    

“To see it reopened yet again for no reason is very troubling,” Gilbert said.