OIRA’s Rao Aims for More Deregulation, Transparently Done

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By Cheryl Bolen

Next year will see three times as much deregulation as regulation, but just as important will be transparency, notice, and public input into the rulemaking process, the nation’s chief regulatory officer told Bloomberg Government in an interview Dec. 14.

Neomi Rao is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an agency within the White House Office of Management and Budget that reviews all significant federal regulations. Rao plays a key role in setting regulatory policy for the administration.

“In terms of a bigger picture, where are we going, I think we are in a continuing and ongoing process of looking at all the ways to make this process more transparent and to enforce norms of fair notice and due process,” Rao said.

Agencies are moving forward with what they think are important regulatory priorities, consistent with the president’s priorities to reduce any overall burdens, Rao said, downplaying any chilling effect that the president has had on agency actions.

Competing Expectations

Like many before her, Rao is faced with critics on the right who expected massive rollbacks of existing regulations after President Donald Trump was sworn into office, and critics on the left who see important public safety and health rules being unlawfully delayed.

At the center of the controversy is Executive Order 13,771, signed by Trump in January, which requires agencies to eliminate two regulations for each new one they issue and to fully offset the cost of the new rule.

In 2017, agencies took 67 deregulatory actions—including rule, guidance, and paperwork reductions—and issued three significant regulations, but it was not clear over the past year what rules needed to be offset or which rules were being used as offsets.

Now, instead of immediately identifying the two rules that will be used to offset a new one, Rao said agencies may look at their rules across the entire fiscal year.

And, if an agency cannot find offsets in one fiscal year, it can carry that balance forward and look for offsets in the next fiscal year, Rao said. Similarly, an agency can bank regulatory costs savings in one year and use them as offsets in the next fiscal year, she said.

Regulatory Action Road Map

Also on Dec. 14, OIRA released its Fall 2017 Regulatory Plan and Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions which lists all the rules that agencies intend to issue or cut in the next 12 months.

For the first time, the agenda clearly identifies deregulatory actions apart from regulatory actions, includes agency-by-agency results for 2017, projections, and regulatory cost caps for fiscal year 2018, Rao said.

OIRA also is publishing in a searchable format an inactive list of regulatory actions under agency review, but not included in the unified agenda.

And posted to a new page on the Reginfo.gov website is a status report on the executive order, including a worksheet showing the methodology OIRA uses to calculate present value and annualized savings, Rao said. “There’s a lot of information,” she said.

Looking ahead, agencies anticipate better than three-for-one deregulatory to regulatory actions, because they may pull back guidance documents or information collections as well, Rao said.

“And they also anticipate having even more negative cost savings, around $9.8 billion in present value terms,” Rao said.

Complaints Growing

While the level of new rulemaking by agencies has dropped precipitously in the first year of this administration, the level of cuts in existing regulations has been disappointing to some conservatives.

Still, what the administration has accomplished in its first 10 months has been “quite remarkable,” Rao said, pointing to the slowdown of new regulatory requirements.

“So no longer are people worried that we’re just going to be springing regulatory burdens on them, especially with this push for fair notice and due process,” she said.

At the same time, the administration is facing a growing number of lawsuits filed by public interest, environmental, and labor organizations.

The latest lawsuit, filed Dec. 14 by the Democracy Forward Foundation against the OMB, seeks to compel it to produce documents identifying members of agency regulatory reform task forces “and their instrumental, but as-yet-unexplained, role in prosecuting the Administration’s deregulatory agenda.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington, D.C. at cbolen@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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