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By Cheryl Bolen
Three bills that would change the agency rulemaking process, including one that would curb the use of social media to communicate to the public about proposed rules, won House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approval on party-line votes.
President Donald Trump’s administration has quickly clamped down on agency use of social media and taken down certain websites from the last administration.
The Regulatory Integrity Act was first introduced in the last Congress. It passed the House in September 2016 but was never taken up by the Senate. Democrats strongly opposed the bill at a committee markup Feb. 14.
“It is hard to imagine that an agency could say anything about a pending rule that would not fall into the broad and ambiguous categories of improper advocacy, publicity or propaganda,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the committee.
Current law prohibits agencies from lobbying for an agency rule. The bill (H.R. 1004) approved in committee, 22-16, would bar federal agencies from making any “public communications” about a pending regulatory action that could be interpreted as propaganda, publicity-seeking material or direct advocacy.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), was introduced in response to a 2015 finding by the Government Accountability Office that the Environmental Protection Agency had violated agency lobbying rules by promoting its Waters of the U.S. rulemaking on social media.
Agencies are supposed to solicit public input about rules through established notice and comment procedures. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen agencies ignore these comments time and again,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).
“Even worse, we’ve seen them, from time to time, trying to manipulate the public into commenting in support of their proposals,” Farenthold said. “That’s just not right.”
Also during its markup, the committee approved on a 22-17 vote a bill that would create a commission for five years to identify executive branch regulations for repeal.
The Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act (H.R. 998) was introduced again this year by Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.). The House passed a similar version of the bill in January 2016.
“The SCRUB Act establishes a bipartisan retrospective regulatory review commission to conduct a comprehensive review of federal regulations,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said during markup. “The goal of the commission is to reduce regulatory costs to the economy by 15 percent.”
Democrats, however, portrayed the bill as an attack on the environment and vital safety and health protections for the public.
“I don’t want us to be enablers to what’s going on here, which is a broad assault on the proper role of government in protecting the public we serve,” Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) said.
During consideration of the bill, the committee rejected five amendments offered by Democrats to create exemptions in the bill, such as exempting rules protecting whistle-blowers from being repealed.
The committee also voted 23-16 to approve a new bill, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Insight, Reform and Accountability Act (H.R. 1009), introduced by Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.). The bill is intended to make OIRA more accountable to Congress by authorizing it in statute.
OIRA, an agency within the White House Office of Management and Budget, reviews significant regulations by agencies. But agencies determine whether their rules are significant, and conduct their own cost-benefit analyses of rules.
“This raises significant concern, as agencies have wide discretion to determine which rules undergo OIRA scrutiny in the rulemaking process,” Mitchell said.
Cummings said he opposed this bill, but offered to work with Republicans on a measure to improve the rulemaking process, particularly the transparency of OIRA. The approach of this bill, however, is not bipartisan or collaborative, he said.
One concern is that the bill would require independent agencies to submit rules to OIRA for review, which would be a significant change and would enshrine into law allegations of interference by the White House, Cummings said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
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