By David Michaels

Earlier today, President Bush took another step to limit the ability of regulatory agencies to protect the nation’s health and environment.

The President signed amendments to Executive Order (E.O.) 12866, further centralizing the control the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has over agency activities, and making it more difficult for public health agencies to issue regulations or even guidance documents.

OMB Watch had just posted its preliminary analysis of the amendments. Here’s an excerpt:

• It shifts the criterion for promulgating regulations from the identification of a problem like public health or environmental protection to the identification of “…the specific market failure (such as externalities, market power, lack of information)…that warrant new agency action.”
• It requires guidance documents to go through the same OMB review process as proposed regulations before agencies can issue them.
• It also requires “significant” guidance documents (those that are estimated to have at least a $100 million effect on the economy, among other criteria) to go through the same OMB review process as “significant” regulations.
• It makes the agencies’ Regulatory Policy Officer a presidential appointment and gives that person the approval authority for any commencement or inclusion of any rulemaking in the Regulatory Plan unless specifically authorized by the agency head.
• It requires each agency to estimate the “combined aggregate costs and benefits of all its regulations planned for that calendar year to assist with the identification of priorities,” which will be overseen by the Regulatory Policy Officer.

This White House clearly has no shame. Less than a week ago, the National Academy of Sciences called for OMB to withdraw a proposed risk assessment bulletin and to leave the risk assessment to the agencies. (Here’s our post on the NAS review.) The Academy’s report was unprecedented – I cannot recall the NAS ever telling the White House to simply withdraw a document, rather than to modify it.

The message is clear. The present occupants of the White House will continue to try their best to permanently paralyze the regulatory system.

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

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