OIRA's All-You-Can-Meet Policy in Practice: Indulging Industry Lobbyists (It Doesn't Have to Be This Way)

by Ben Somberg

The CPR white paper on OIRA earlier this week looked at how this little office within OMB facilitates an industry-dominated process that serves to weaken regulations proposed by federal agencies. Appearances by industry representatives have outnumbered those by public interest lobbyists more than 5-to-1 in meetings at OIRA in the last ten years, the paper found (3,763 to 708, for the record).

Does it have to be this way?

The Obama Administration has said on numerous occasions that it has an “open door” policy at OIRA. But while “open door” sounds good in theory, the hard evidence shows that this very policy facilitates industry’s domination of the process.

The Administration has actually defended the open door policy by going one step further, such as with these words from then-OMB spokesman Tom Gavin:

Gavin said the White House office is required by executive order to meet with all interested parties who request a meeting. The office has not refused a meeting with anyone who has asked for one, he said.

As the white paper notes, no such provision in an executive order actually exists – not in EO 12,866, nor in the more recent EO 13,563. (The Administration also made the claim here.)

So what should be done, given the imbalance of the influences on the meetings process? The white paper co-authors first recommend:

OIRA should stop meeting with outside parties during its consideration of a proposed or final rule, and instead confine its evaluation to dialogue with agency staff and, if necessary, review of the ample comments in the rulemaking record.  The agency process of reviewing public comments is the appropriate venue for outside parties to make their case about how best to enforce the nation’s laws via regulation.

The authors also gave a second, if-that-doesn’t-happen recommendation:

Nevertheless, if OIRA continues to meet with outside parties, it should assume an active role in balancing the participation, whether through consolidating meetings with like-minded participants (seeing them all at once), reaching out to the relevant public interest groups to encourage their input, or both.

Must the process continue to operate as it currently does? No.  Changing this would be a win for ensuring that the public interest does not get trumped.

© 2016 The Center for Progressive Reform