Meet OIRA – The Secretive White House Office With Disturbing Regulatory Powers

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

But in practice, OIRA operates largely in secret, exempt from most requests under the Freedom of Information Act. It routinely declines to release the changes it has proposed, the evidence it has relied upon to make them, or the identities and affiliations of White House advisers and other agencies’ staff it has consulted. OIRA doesn’t even disclose the names and credentials of its employees other than its two most senior officials.

 

In 2013 the Administrative Conference, an independent federal agency that reviews government administrative processes, released a study of OIRA’s effect on the application and interpretation of science the agencies gather and analyze to write rules. In examining a group of air-quality regulations, the study found that most of OIRA’s suggestions involved substantive changes. The report concluded that in some instances, the office has proposed changes to the basic science underlying the rules. These included revising numbers in tables created by the EPA, altering technical discussions and recommending different standards altogether.

 

- From ProPublica’s extremely important article: Lobbyists Bidding to Block Government Regs Set Sights on Secretive White House Office.

Have you ever heard of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, otherwise known as OIRA? Yeah, neither had I.

As someone who prides himself on being a relatively informed citizen, it is always shocking and disturbing when I learn of a powerful organization operating in the shadows of America’s faux democracy with which I am almost entirely unfamiliar. While I’m sure I’ve read many articles in which OIRA was mentioned, I had never fully understood exactly what it is, and how it is used by lobbyists and large corporate interests to further entrench the established oligarchic power structure. We can thank ProPublica for providing this service.

Let’s start off with a little background. OIRA was created in 1980, and shortly thereafter the Reagan administration greatly expanded its powers by signing an executive order that gave the office the authority to review all federal rules. Ever since then, it has been used to rewrite or entirely block regulations from almost every regulatory body imaginable. While the initial idea of a government body to review newly proposed regulations and gather additional feedback before implementation is a noble one, in practice it has amounted to nothing more than the censorship of science in the name of protecting large corporate interests. Most importantly, all of this happens in total darkness.

For example, ProPublica notes that OIRA is disturbingly exempt from most requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For example, the public cannot even find out the qualifications of the people who make drastic changes to proposed environmental regulations. In one specific case regarding a proposed EPA rule, we see an economist and a lawyer completely overruling peer-reviewed science.

Significantly, OIRA doesn’t just interfere every once in a while. As ProPublic notes: “84% of the EPA’s proposed rules from 2001 to 2011 featured changes suggested by OIRA.” As mentioned earlier, the American public has no idea what was changed, why, or the qualifications of the people who made the changes. All of that is intentionally kept completely secret. Surely, in order to protect us from terrorists or something.

Even more worrisome, OIRA power is not only wielded for corporate profit protection purposes, but for political purposes as well. For example, according to OIRA’s governing executive order, it is supposed to complete its review within 90 days of receiving a proposed regulation. Nevertheless, “delays reached an all-time peak under President Obama between 2011 and 2013.”

High level EPA officials believe this was due to the 2012 election and not wanting to review any potentially controversial environmental regulations ahead of it. Quite often an OIRA strategy is to simply never review a proposed regulation until the regulatory body gives up and pulls it.

The anti-democratic, secretive and feudal power vested in the OIRA is an issue with which I was entirely unaware, but it is extremely important nonetheless. Here are some excerpts from ProPublica’s very important article:

 A series of executive orders over the past three decades have given OIRA significant authority to reassess rules on every imaginable subject, from health care to the environment to transportation. The office shares early drafts of rules with the president’s top advisers as well as other Cabinet-level agencies that might object.

 

Although some on OIRA’s team have degrees in science and engineering, former officials say its leadership and staff are largely drawn from the realms of economics, law and public policy. Regardless, the office does not hesitate to rework agency rules that were years in the making and backed by peer-reviewed science. Often, OIRA officials make a proposed rule appear too costly by revising the calculation of benefits downward. As it did with the silica limits, the office can also prolong the process, holding regulations in limbo for months and sometimes years.

 

But in practice, OIRA operates largely in secret, exempt from most requests under the Freedom of Information Act. It routinely declines to release the changes it has proposed, the evidence it has relied upon to make them, or the identities and affiliations of White House advisers and other agencies’ staff it has consulted. OIRA doesn’t even disclose the names and credentials of its employees other than its two most senior officials. (Repeated requests to the office for the backgrounds of its employees drew no response.)

 

According to a study by the Center for Progressive Reform, a nonprofit research and educational organization critical of the office, 84 percent of the EPA’s proposed rules from 2001 to 2011 featured changes suggested by OIRA as did 65 percent of other agencies’ regulations. Officially, OIRA’s “edits” are suggestions but they carry the weight of the White House and are typically accepted by the agency proposing the rule.

In 2008, an OIRA review by the Bush administration deleted a provision intended to protect plant life from the effects of ozone, a key component of smog. The EPA had proposed a sharp reduction in the permissible levels of ozone to protect forests and vegetation, which naturally remove carbon from the atmosphere. According to an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the White House summarily overturned the unanimous recommendation of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and an array of expert testimony.

 

In 2013 the Administrative Conference, an independent federal agency that reviews government administrative processes, released a study of OIRA’s effect on the application and interpretation of science the agencies gather and analyze to write rules. In examining a group of air-quality regulations, the study found that most of OIRA’s suggestions involved substantive changes. The report concluded that in some instances, the office has proposed changes to the basic science underlying the rules. These included revising numbers in tables created by the EPA, altering technical discussions and recommending different standards altogether.

 

Congress created OIRA in 1980 to prevent federal agencies from demanding excessive amounts of data from public and private parties. President Reagan greatly expanded its powers, signing an executive order that gave the office the authority to review all federal rules. This was an important change, since most laws say the rules are to be written by the relevant Cabinet agency, not the president and his aides. At the time, Reagan’s move kicked up controversy — still alive today — about whether it was appropriate for the White House to have such a direct say in government rulemaking. 

 

Since then, both Republican and Democratic presidents have signed executive orders enshrining OIRA’s pivotal role.

As usual, bipartisan criminality.

Cass R. Sunstein, a prominent legal scholar who led OIRA from 2009 to 2012, rejects many criticisms of the office, namely that it lacks transparency and that its suggested changes and delays are politically motivated.

 

Sunstein, now a law professor at Harvard, responded neither to ProPublica’s requests for an interview nor to written questions.

Once I realized Cass Sunstein was involved in this thing it all started to make perfect sense. Sunstein is one of the most unabashedly authoritarian Americans operating in the halls of government and academia today. As the Washington Post noted last year:

While at Harvard in 2008, Sunstein co-authored a working paper that suggests government agents or their allies “cognitively infiltrate” conspiracy theorist groups by joining ”chat rooms, online social networks or even real-space groups” and influencing the conversation.

He is such a pernicious character, I wrote a post highlighting his dastardly ways last year. Please familiarize yourselves with the following: Obama Picks Cass Sunstein, America’s Joseph Goebbels, to Serve on the NSA Oversight Panel.

Now back to ProPublica:

In the weeks leading to OIRA’s completed review of the coal ash limits, a number of utility industry lobbyists and lawyers met with the office. While OIRA makes public a list of attendees and documents given to the office’s representatives at meetings, it does not disclose the substance of their discussions. Such conversations are not unusual; any member of the public can meet with OIRA to discuss a rule. But the office has become a standard stop on the lobbying circuit for industries facing tighter regulations. 

 

A 2003 Government Accountability Office study found that “regulated parties,” typically corporations or their lobbyists, frequently get what they want after meetings with OIRA. Sometimes, the language of the edited rule is similar to that proposed by the regulated parties themselves. 

 

The office also recast the EPA’s scientific findings. The agency initially stated that using ponds for storing the most toxic form of coal ash, the emissions captured in the smoke stack’s final filter, did “not represent the best available technology for controlling pollutants in almost all circumstances.” Revisions made during OIRA review recommended eliminating this conclusion, giving no explanation why. Other changes included softening data, such as reducing coal-fired power plants’ share of toxic pollutants discharged to surface water from “at least 60 percent” to “50-60 percent.” The post-OIRA version also recommended reducing the projected benefits of the EPA’s higher standards, which the agency did.

 

The EPA reached its findings for handling coal ash after almost 10 years of extensive data collection, modeling and analysis. This work required the knowledge of biologists, chemists, engineers and toxicologists working on a team that varied in size from about eight to around 30 people at various phases. The EPA lists the staff in its Office of Water responsible for the rule in the document itself, on the agency’s website and in press releases.

 

It is difficult to know the qualifications of the people at OIRA who rewrote the EPA’s draft rule. The only credentials disclosed by its website are those of the current administrator, Howard Shelanksi, who has a Ph.D. in economics, and his deputy, Andrei Greenawalt, a lawyer who was a policy adviser to the chief of staff from 2011 to 2013. ProPublica’s request to the OMB for a list of OIRA staff went unanswered, as did repeated requests for an interview with Shelanski. OIRA also failed to respond to written questions about its lack of transparency.

 

According to OIRA’s governing executive order, the office is supposed to complete its review within 90 days of receiving a regulation, with the option of one 30-day extension. But rules often gather dust for far longer. As documented in an Administrative Conference analysis, delays reached an all-time peak under President Obama between 2011 and 2013.

Least transparent administration ever.

High-level EPA staff interviewed for the analysis thought OIRA reviews took so long because of political concerns over contentious rules in the lead-up to the 2012 general election.

 

According to the report, “The employees said their agencies were instructed that such rules were not to be issued unless deemed absolutely necessary (e.g., judicial deadline) or if it could be shown they were not controversial (e.g., clear net benefits).” Such instructions weren’t issued in writing, but conveyed verbally by agency administrators who had been to meetings with key White House officials, the employees said.

 

The Administrative Conference report noted that in June 2013, 141 rules were under review at OIRA, of which over half had been there for more than 90 days. About half of those had been under review for more than a year, and 26 more for over two years. The rules were from a variety of agencies, including the EPA and the Departments of Energy and Labor.

 

Curtis Copeland, former specialist in American national government at the Congressional Research Service and author of the 2013 study for the Administrative Conference said, “What I heard when talking to the agencies was that OIRA often recommends agencies withdraw rules. Then it can all be done in the dark.”

 

As Copeland wrote in a 2009 Congressional Research Service survey of OIRA, “some agencies have indicated that they do not even propose certain regulatory provisions because they believe that OIRA would find them objectionable.”

 

Morrall, the former deputy administrator of OIRA, acknowledged the lack of transparency and defended it on the grounds that it might be politically damaging if the public learned more about the office’s inner workings. “To do our job we don’t need what went into our decisions out in the public domain because opponents could use that against the president.”

So once again political interests trump the public interest. These cronies aren’t even ashamed to admit it publicly at this point.

The GAO’s 2009 follow-up report found that OIRA and the agencies had failed to adhere to seven of eight transparency recommendations made in its 2003 assessment. The one measure OIRA had taken was to disclose logs of meetings with people outside government, which it continues to do, although they are nearly impossible to search, contain minimal, sometimes-unclear information about the attendees, and have scant information about what was discussed. 

 

Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland and current president of the Center for Progressive Reform, the group critical of OIRA, has called for the office to be stripped of its rulemaking powers, terminating centralized White House regulatory review. In a 2012 law review article, Steinzor wrote that the Executive would still have rulemaking power: “The President can exert sufficient control over rulemaking through the political appointees he has selected to lead the agencies.”

Got Democracy?

 

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Save_America1st's picture

WATCH and LISTEN then PASS IT ON.  Excellent interview with Marine Colonel Pete Martino:  I See Something!

This is the TRUTH, "Folks"!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUTXnnVTInA

rcintc's picture

At this point, is anyone really shocked that this is actually occurring?  

This federal behemoth has got to be dismantled....as soon as humanly possible.

wee-weed up's picture

Give Obozo half a chance...

To abuse a Fed office or dept or statute...

 

Hugh G Rection's picture

Ahhh Cass Sunstein, my favorite troll account on facebook.

 

Want to know what the OIRA tax money goes toward?  Look at 9/11 disinfo clowns pushing theories about no planes hitting the towers, mini nukes being used to demolish the towers, space beams or directed energy weapons were used.  The Boston bombing was a hoax, no dead kids at Sandy Hook...and on and on.

"The best way to control dissent is to lead it ourselves." - Lenin

Uncle Jim Fetzer is climbing all over himself after a legitimate architect, Richard Gage, was on CSPAN telling the truth.  The tribe is desperate.

Almost forgot to plug my video: No bullshit, just the hard facts about 9/11

Why Fetzer is full of shit

medium giraffe's picture

Richard Gage and Alex Jonesberg - have a horrible feeling they're controlled opp.

Hugh G Rection's picture

I know Richard.

 

He lost his career, his wife, and was living out of a suitcase because of his beliefs about 9/11.

Kosher Truther King Jones has always been high on the hog.  To associate the two in the same sentence is an insult.  Jonestein has remained married to his Ashkenazi wife with millions of dollars pouring in from his limited hangout.  But, he may have to make good on that right of return fairly soon...

The Sunstein trolls can throw the kitchen sink at the truth, wont matter.  A million hasbarat trolls on the internet can't suppress the truth.

medium giraffe's picture

Not a fan of AJ for the reasons you state, but I would prefer it if I was wrong about Gage, given what I've seen of him and what he has said.  Thanks for challenging me on that, will remain open minded on that one then. +1 for not just hitting the friggin downvote. 

daemon's picture

" At this point, is anyone really shocked that this is actually occurring?  "

Of course not, OIRA is like the FED, another trojan horse. Nothing surprising.

theonewhowaskazu's picture

"While at Harvard in 2008, Sunstein co-authored a working paper that suggests government agents or their allies “cognitively infiltrate” conspiracy theorist groups by joining ”chat rooms, online social networks or even real-space groups” and influencing the conversation.

Shit I've been discovered!
FilthyHabits's picture

Yes, the shadow; I call it the "ice cream syndrome".

Vote for me little kiddies, I'll buy you ice cream for as long as I'm in office!

Fucktards.

Arm Yourselves.

Implied Violins's picture

Guillotine models: http://boisdejustice.com/

On the left, you have a combination wood, steel and brass with a steel 'catch bucket.' On the right you have a classic model, straight wood and steel with a wicker catch basket. Many more models on the ensuing pages, or have one built to your specifications!

ugmug's picture

Doesn't Obama have a secrecy czar to keep of all this.....hidden....called the news media.

doctor10's picture

Congress can "defund" these fuckers any time John Boehner calls a vote!! /s

CH1's picture

Sadly, there are still people waiting for that to happen.

What a waste of life.

Canadian Dirtlump's picture

The real value for people with eyes to see with respect to shit like this is: it provides the needed reminder that the world has been fucked up for decades and the march towards where we find ourselves began before most of us were born. In other words, the "good old days" people often harken back to weren't all that good and if one looks back to most historical incidents you find the same rotten had in there working against humanity as a whole.

Duffy Duck's picture

disinfowars is splendid!

Seize Mars's picture

Reagan? B-b-b-but Reagan was in favor of limited gov...

Oh fuck I can't type that shit without cracking up.

Slave's picture

The Republican Reagan Circlejerk™ is more pathetic than anything the Detards do.

Elvis the Pelvis's picture

The parties are two sides of the same coin.  Tune in, turn on, and drop out.  Bitchez.

GeorgeHayduke's picture

I am amazed too. Amazed that a conservative could possibly write anything negative about Ronnie. He's sure to catch hell from the Reagan true believers, although they may just do what they usually do and let cognitive dissonance take over.

This also was the time when policies were ramped up in favor moving all wealth upward so that it could then trickle down on the peons...in theory. Look where those ideals have landed us.

Harbanger's picture

"Amazed that a conservative could possibly write anything negative about Ronnie."

Are people that Blitz?  Just so you know, Mike Krieger and Liberty Blitzkrieg are not conservative. or libertarian.

He's a 30 something yr. old progressive who voted for Obama.  Watch his interview.

http://www.zerohedge.com/article/mike-krieger-discusses-politics-economi...

In the interview he claimed to represent the 'New Progressive' party, he's also a hedge fund manager. not that it means anything.

Duffy Duck's picture

Do you know anything, actually, about the distinctions between 'Conservatives' and libertarians?

Dewey Cheatum Howe's picture

Reagan's best acting job he ever did was pretending he was president. Pappy Bush controlled his ass like a sock puppet after that botched assasination attempt to put Pappy in the driver's seat. You can blame most of this crap on Pappy since he's been the defacto enforcer for the owners since the 70s including his rise to the head of the CIA on the US petro interests end of petrodollar while the Pope of Islam aka the King Abdullah the ruler of the Vatican of Islam aka Mecca is the Arab's enforcer for their petro interests. It is no mistake those 2 have been tied together at the hip.

Greenskeeper_Carl's picture

Beat me to it. This came from the same administration that brought us the 'deficits don't matter' mantra. Total mind blower. See Also : BUT WE ARE THE PARTY OF LINCOLN.

HardAssets's picture

Ya know your vote would be flipped completely the other way if this were townhall.com

 

daemon's picture

" Reagan? B-b-b-but Reagan was in favor of limited gov... "

Maybe he left some quote, expressing his regrets, ..... like Wilson did after authorizing the creation of the FED.

Oldwood's picture

everything our government imposes upon us is always for only the best reasons. They are here to protect us...unfortunately as their power is largely unrestrained, every program, every law is ultimately used to crush us, to control us, to oppress us. We could have Jesus Christ as president (or the devil) and it would not matter because every act of goodness would be followed by a flogging.

Just to be clear, Obama IS NOT anything close to Christ like, if anything he is the opposite, a false profit, the antichrist.

The power of the devil is not supernatural, it is simply his reliance on our willingness to behave immorally for immediate pleasure or gains. We see the lines growing now.

daemon's picture

" The power of the devil is not supernatural, it is simply his reliance on our willingness to behave immorally for immediate pleasure or gains. "

What you write is dangerous you know. You are destroying the projections that allow people to go on living without having to look at themselves. They won't like you, for forcing them to introspect.

Dewey Cheatum Howe's picture

Yep, like i've been saying here until people change nothing changes. It will just be more of the same, no laws or institutions or voting will fix broken people. They got to fix themselves then in turn it wil radiate outward through the communities, institutions, etc.

Reforming systems doesn't change the fact the people are broken.

Reforming a police state to make it kinder and more 'progressive' doesn't change the fact it is a police state.

Ignatius's picture

The only thing that's changed is me.

Dr. Engali's picture

One well placed asteroid...... Is that too much to ask?

Slave's picture

"Ahh...men."

-Barry

Harbanger's picture

How about global cooling, crop failure and plague.

NeedtoSecede's picture

Doc,

An asteroid would not give us the pleasure of "rolling the guillotines!"...

How about this triple threat for the District of Corruption:

1. Roll the Guillotines

2. Roll the Bulldozers

3. Bring in the asteroid to just make sure none of the cockroaches get out alive

Jack Burton's picture

Corporate Shadow Government. Banker Shadow Government. The fake congress who follow orders from lobbiests and doners. A military Industrial, spy, cop, TSA, Homeland security, patriot act complex.

What is not to like about Imperial Washington DC in the year 2014. With it's NSA spy complex to track the population.

Sometimes I think the focus of evil in the modern world resides inside the beltway of Washigton DC, a town of rich government employees and corrupt politicians and the rich lawyers and lobbiests who manage the shadow government.

This pack of wankers dares to call us citizens  potential terrorists and threats to national security. To them we are slaves to be taxed to death and spied on. Yet, they can still rouse the rabble to wave American flags on the 4th of July and cheer the troops. I wonder when the last time the troops defended this nation, rather than spread the Israeli flag or fought a neocon war of choice. 2001 signaled the end of the constitution, 2008 signaled the end of capitalism and free markets. 2014 seems to be signaling the beginning of an end game war on Russia.

 

 

cynicalskeptic's picture

Constitution?!?!?   We don't need no Constitution.......

Limited government?  Individual rights?   bwahaaaaaa........     'Hunger Games' was just a preview of the future.

disabledvet's picture

Yeah perrty much. "Don't slight the powerful for acting as such." Of course they have a "revolving door" there..these are Administrations not Regimes.

Having said that would be interesting to know what their "institutional review" on "ye olde credit default swap" was. I mean sure..."if you like your wars, you can have your wars!" But someone...or in this case SOMETHING has to pay for that.

In this instance "that would be 185 billion for AIG"!!!

Salsipuedes's picture

Thank God nobody's responsible for anything or there would be hell to pay!

Atomizer's picture

Back before ZeroHedge, we told the story about the Plunge Protection Team on MarketWatch threads. It wasn't taken fondly.

Love,

MW Lifeboatwithductape. winks.

lunaticfringe's picture

When I first read about the PPT here on ZH- I shit you not- I thought you people were nutters.

Then I found this about a week later. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_Group_on_Financial_Markets

Atomizer's picture

Ask anyone who remembers me on MarketWatch. When I dumped the story, every radio station filled up my MW email. I just deleted everything in my MW inbox. Just like the short term people we entertain, they don’t remember the facts from yesterday.

putaipan's picture

well. you know things are getting really wierd when ben fulford starts writing/ sounding cojent-https://jhaines6.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/ben-fulfords-august-4-2014-pos...

 

Idaho potato head's picture

Jeeze you're right, note to self : powder, popcorn, duct tape.

JamesBond's picture

I rememvber the good old days on MW.  I went by, Ian when posting.

Had to bail out of that site.  It became too progressive.  Too many pump monkeys writing there.

 

jb

NoDebt's picture

All of those agencies fall under what branch of government, again?  Executive.  And we should be shocked that the White House has significant input into where the REAL laws are made?  (Real laws are made at the regulatory level.)  Why do you think Obama has 50+ 'Czars'?  What do you think they do all day?  They sit and twist regulatory language to make it allow what those connected with the President want it to say, stamped with the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" by the stooge-in-chief.  

I am shocked that anyone would be shocked about this.  

The President is our King.  That's why it's so important to be the one pulling the king's strings.  Congress is a parody of itself.  A joke.  The executive is where all the action is.