Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment
92 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2016
Date Written: November 2011
Tucked in a corner of the Old Executive Office Building, an obscure group of some three dozen economists exerts extraordinary power over federal rules intended to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. Known officially as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), this unit reports to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but operates as a free-ranging squad that pulls an astounding number of draft regulatory actions — some 6,194 over the ten-year period covered in this report — into a dragnet that operates behind closed doors. No policy that might distress influential industries, from oil production to coal mining to petrochemical manufacturing, goes into effect without OIRA’s approval.
This white paper is the first comprehensive effort to unpack the dynamics of OIRA’s daily work, specifically with regard to the only information that is readily available to the public about its internal review process: records of its meetings with lobbyists. These records are perhaps the only accessible accounting of OIRA’s influence, and they demonstrate that OIRA has persistently ignored the unequivocal mandates of three presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — by refusing to disclose the differences between regulatory drafts as they enter review and the final versions that emerge at the end of that process. This study reveals that OIRA routinely substitutes its judgment for that of the agencies, second-guessing agency efforts to implement specific mandates assigned to them by Congress in statutes such as the Clean Air Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In so doing, OIRA systematically undermines the clear congressional intent that such decisions be made by specified agencies’ neutral experts in the law, science, engineering, and economics applicable to a given industry.
Keywords: Regulation, Environment, Health, Safety, Government, Lobbying, Policy, Cost-Benefit Analysis
JEL Classification: D61, D62, D73, D78, H11, H42, K23, K32, L51
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation