House passes bill to keep agencies from promoting proposed rules

Legislation to keep agencies from tweeting about proposed rules sailed through the House Wednesday evening.

The Regulatory Integrity Act passed by a 250 to 171 vote largely along party lines. Ten Democrats voted for the Republican-backed bill, which prohibits agencies from promoting a rulemaking on social media. Only tweets and blog posts that inform the public of the “substance or status” of a rule are allowed.

The legislation, which the administration has already threatened to veto, also requires each agency to report every communication about a rule and publicly post online a list of each rulemaking, the date the agency began considering the action, its status, the date it will be finalized and a brief description of the rule.

Republicans claim the legislation is a way to make the government more open, transparent and unbiased.

“These basic transparency measures will allow the public to have a central source for all communication about a specific regulatory action so that the public can have a full and equal opportunity to understand the intent of the agency,” the bill’s lead sponsor Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said.

While Democrats have noted that the reporting required is already published in the administration’s semiannual Unified Regulatory Agenda, members blasted the bill on the floor Wednesday evening for prohibiting agencies from talking about pending rules.

Under the bill’s definition of public communications, Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.) said even harmless tweets from an agency could be viewed as improperly promoting a rule.

“This means that tweets as innocuous and as popular as the Department of the Interior's daily nature photo could even be considered improper promotion,” he said. “I cannot believe that the sponsors of this bill would really intend to regulate nature photos on Twitter.”

Walberg assured the House chair that having majored in forestry and land management he loves a good picture of nature.  

“We are not attempting to stop that from taking place,” he said. “We are simply saying that the American public deserves the opportunity, in regulatory issues, to make clear public comments and to know, with transparency, what agencies are doing.”