President Obama’s choice to become the government’s regulatory gatekeeper pledged Wednesday to tackle a backlog of pending rules if he wins Senate confirmation for the job.
Speeding up the regulatory review process would be among “my highest priorities” as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Howard Shelanski told lawmakers at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on his nomination.
Under a long-standing executive order, OIRA is generally supposed to review agencies’ proposed and final rules within 90 days. But as of last month, 87 rules had been sitting at OIRA for more than 90 days, while 51 had been under review for more than a year, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Shelanksi.
The delays “fundamentally undermine” agencies’ ability to do their jobs, Levin said.
From 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, through last year, the average OIRA review time for significant rules doubled from 39 days to 79 days, according to a recent analysis released by the Center for Progressive Reform, an advocacy group that favors stricter health and environmental regulations.
Last week, a half-dozen Democratic lawmakers complained of OIRA hold-ups of proposed rules affecting the environment, energy efficiency and worker safety. One Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposal to protect workers from cancer-causing silica dust has been at OIRA for more than two years, the lawmakers said in a publicly released letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell, whose agency includes the regulatory office.
“With Congress often paralyzed by gridlock, the public is depending on the federal agencies to protect public health and welfare,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and the other four said in the letter. “OIRA should strive to facilitate efforts by the agencies to respond to urgent priorities being stymied in Congress.”
The job of OIRA administrator has been vacant since last August when Cass Sunstein returned to teaching at Harvard Law School. Shelanksi, an economist who also has a law degree, currently heads the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Economics. Obama picked him for the OIRA post in April.
At Wednesday’s hearing, which lasted less than 90 minutes and attracted only a handful of senators, Shelanksi said he saw OIRA’s role as asking “hard questions” to ensure the soundness of evidence used by agencies to justify new regulations. He also said he would continue the use of “lookbacks” to winnow or improve regulations already on the books.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the committee’s chairman, said afterwards that he knew of no serious opposition to Shelanksi’s nomination.
Carper was also hopeful of a final Senate confirmation vote as early as this week on the candidacy of Brian Deese to become OMB’s deputy director for budget. Both Carper’s panel and the Senate Budget Committee approved Deese’s nomination last month.