Vaccines threaten to block White House regulatory process

Last month, dozens of people opposed to President Biden’s vaccine mandate flooded the White House regulatory office, taking advantage of a little-known “open door” policy typically used by organized groups.

Many of the mandate’s critics never showed up to their meeting at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, records show, but this development means more people are paying attention to the White House’s opaque rule review process.

“OIRA has become more prominent and a more familiar part of our regulatory process,” said Adam White, senior researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “It is likely that you will see greater involvement in the OIRA process in part because the White House itself has encouraged larger parts of our political community beyond the Beltway elites.”

The Biden administration has signaled its intention to revamp the public meeting process, but details remain elusive.

Progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Have long opposed “open house” meetings dictated by the Clinton Executive Order 12866, saying they tend to give corporate interests disproportionate influence.

“OIRA has always been a big part of the machine,” said Sidney Shapiro, professor at Wake Forest University. “The industry is just better at organizing and funding themselves to get these meetings. It is not that they have excluded public interest groups. It’s just an imbalance between opportunities and resources. In general, the public is not involved at all in this process.

Warren introduced a bill in Congress last that would have suppressed meetings, which critics say have generally slowed the pace or weakened the rules, especially when it comes to environmental policy.

In fact, an OIRA office agent turned tobacco industry lobbyist wrote an open letter urging the industry to pressure the OIRA over an e-cigarette rule, James Goodwin noted. , regulatory analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform.

Goodwin said: “He actually said lobbying OIRA would be more effective than participating in opinions and comments!”

On day one, President Biden issued a memo calling for a “modernization of regulatory review,” but 10 months later the White House declined to elaborate (Green wire, October 22).

Last week, K. Sabeel Rahman – scholar, activist and now senior lawyer at OIRA – gave some clues about the administration’s thinking on regulation.

He said the White House envisioned “the real need to think about civic engagement, not just in a passive and open door, anyone can comment on a review and comment, great – God bless you.” No, I think it’s actually the need to reflect… what communities are we trying to reach? What are the obstacles and challenges they face in engaging with government? And how do we design modes of engagement that meet people where they are? ”

But some observers wonder what concrete change is really on the horizon given that the White House has yet to appoint someone to lead OIRA. This is by far the biggest lag in recent history.

Asked about opponents of the immunization mandate, an OIRA spokesperson said, “OIRA welcomes comments from the public and is always looking for ways to improve public access to provide comment.”

The recent wave resembles the rush of comments on then-President Trump’s memo to curb federal law enforcement, especially for environmental crimes. The comments generally expressed general adulation for Trump and had little to do with current politics (Green wire, March 6, 2020).

Observers like Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, are now wondering if this popular conservative rush will be replicated for future Biden rules – especially now that many meetings are held remotely due to the pandemic.

There is little evidence that the meetings had an impact on federal rules. During the Obama administration, observers said, OIRA office officials made a point of not making any comments or opinions on what the administration envisioned.

Lisa Heinzerling, professor at Georgetown University and former head of the EPA, wrote an article in 2014 entitled “Inside EPA: A Former Insider’s Reflections on the Relationship Between the Obama EPA and the Obama White House”.

She accused the White House of blunders surrounding the development of ozone rules in the early Obama years. Environmentalists and progressives say he was ditched because of politics, a claim denied by then-OIRA administrator Cass Sunstein (Green wire, September 14, 2011).

Heiznerling said: “Whatever Sunstein takes on the ‘merits’ of the ozone rule, it is difficult to understand why the president rejected it and why Sunstein thinks this decision was ‘unmistakably correct’ .

The White House now finds itself in what observers see as a delicate point: increasing public accessibility and also tight regulations.

“The White House Biden has very clearly expressed an interest in making the regulatory process accessible to the general public – it involves an increase in the scale of the process that they just have to accept,” White said.

“I don’t know how you would diminish that without taking a strictly partisan approach,” White said. “The folks in the White House aren’t dumb, so they need to figure out what they’re getting into.”

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