The Chemical Industry's Stealth Campaign Against Public Health
Issue Alert Executive Summary
The Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy is tiny and largely unaccountable, but it wields surprising power over the federal regulatory system. A steady stream of statutes and executive orders issued over the past three decades have imbued the Office of Advocacy with powerful supervisory authority over analytical and procedural requirements that regulatory agencies must satisfy before issuing rules on everything from worker safety to air pollution. In important ways, the Office of Advocacy’s role in the regulatory system bears a striking resemblance to that played by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Both operate to similar effect, functioning as an anti-regulatory force from within the regulatory structure, blocking, delaying, and diluting agency efforts to protect public health and safety.
Congress did not create the Office of Advocacy to play this role. Instead, by statute, the Office of Advocacy is supposed to advance the interests of small businesses that may lack the resources or expertise to field expansive lobbying efforts in Washington, especially in light of the lobbying efforts conducted on behalf of large corporations and trade associations, whose interests rarely align with those of real small businesses. The Office of Advocacy enjoys a privileged role in the rulemaking process because the law requires agencies to pay special attention to its objections and modify regulations to make them small businesses-friendly (i.e., by not putting small businesses at a competitive disadvantage to larger firms within their sector) without sacrificing protections for public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment.
To carry out this intended role, the Office of Advocacy could reach out to actual small business owners across the country to learn about the real challenges that government policies might pose for them. It could develop good working relationships with agency officials to help them achieve their statutory mission without unduly burdening small businesses. But in actual practice, the Office of Advocacy has pursued another agenda, focusing on forming alliances with big businesses, and especially trade associations that lobby on behalf of large corporate interests, and working to block any regulations that they might find inconvenient to their bottom line, even at the cost of properly safeguarding people and the environment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) ongoing efforts to draft new rules covering worker exposure to crystalline silica offer a striking example of how the strong ties between the Office of Advocacy and big-business trade associations threaten public health. In developing its response to OSHA’s proposed silica standard, the Office of Advocacy has leaned heavily on the leading trade association representing multi-billion-dollar chemical companies inside the Beltway, the American Chemistry Council (ACC). For example:
One-quarter of the small entity representatives who participated in the Small Business Advocacy Review Panel were nominated by advocates linked to ACC.
ACC and its affiliates led discussions at “roundtable” meetings sponsored by the Office of Advocacy, which the Office of Advocacy later described as the primary source of information for its formal comments to OSHA.
OIRA granted ACC-affiliated advocates eight closed-door meetings to discuss the proposed rule. Representatives from Advocacy participated in six of the eight meetings.
One-third of the specific points that Advocacy raised in its formal comments on the rule overlap with points that ACC made in its formal comments.
For such behavior, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report that took the Office of Advocacy to task for failing to follow the basic policies and recordkeeping standards that would prove Advocacy’s formal rulemaking comments actually reflect input received from small business representatives. The disturbing portrait portrayed in the GAO report aligns with the evidence laid out in this Issue Alert, reflecting the deep ties between the Office of Advocacy and the American Chemistry Council.
In order for the Office of Advocacy to comply with its statutory mandate and end its persistent misuse of taxpayer dollars, reforms are in order:
Advocacy should establish and abide by new policies that ensure its staff work to advance the unique interests of small businesses within the bounds of occupational-safety, environmental, and consumer-protection laws.
Congress should increase its oversight of the Office of Advocacy.
The President should revoke Executive Order 13272, which gives the Office of Advocacy too much sway over other agencies’ rulemaking processes.