Obama's Promise of Regulatory Sunshine

Washington Matters

Obama's Promise of Regulatory Sunshine

Within weeks, the Obama administration will re-order how federal regulations affecting business, labor, the environment, health care, the workplace, food safety and other policy areas are developed, reviewed and finalized. It won't bring total transparency to the often mysterious and contentious federal regulatory process, but the effort to shine more light on the process and demand more accountability from rulemakers will be a marked break from with the former Bush administration's more closely guarded regulatory rulemaking and review process.

Critics charged that rule-writing under the Bush team was almost covertly-managed by a pro-business White House staff. That may have been a boon for many businesses during those years but now virtually every industry needs to learn about the changes coming under President Obama.


The biggest change will be a shift of power from centralized White House overseers in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to regulatory agency heads (several still to be named), giving them more say and deference in developing rules coming from their departments -- rules often developed at the detail-level by career agency staff.

The aim is to rely more heavily on expert staff, factual data and agency-sponsored scientific review in developing or changing regulations and less on what some regulatory policy experts came to see as an intrusion of politics and ideology in the Bush years by White House appointees, most noticeably in the final weeks and months of Bush's presidency, especially in the area of workplace safety, pollution controls and environmental protection.

Regulatory power won't be entirely decentralized or deputized to agencies. Obama already has in place several policy "czars" in the White House for things like health, energy, urban affairs, environment and climate change. They'll no doubt have input in regulatory policy. And OIRA, part of the White House Office of Management and Budget, will still sign off on regulations before they are finalized and published in the Federal Register.


But unlike under Bush, Obama will require OIRA and agency heads to publicly disclose why they delay, derail or order more review, etc., of all agency rulemakings. That's the sunshine. We'll be hearing about it more, no doubt. We stand to be better informed because of it -- assuming it holds up.