OMB tells agencies to measure cumulative effects of regs

Tuesday - 3/20/2012, 5:33pm EDT

Agencies no longer should list regulatory actions that are either long-term or have not seen any action in years when compiling their spring 2012 Unified Regulatory Agendas.

Departments also should take specific steps to reduce the cumulative cost of regulations.

Cass Sunstein, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, sent two memos to agency officials — one to agency regulatory policy officers detailing new guidelines for the development of this annual report and one to agency secretaries outlining steps agencies should take to reduce the cost and time it takes to develop regulations .

"In some cases, the addition of new rules and requirements has unfortunate cumulative effects," Sunstein wrote in a blog post on the cumulative memo. "Taken in isolation, a new rule may seem perfectly sensible, but it may overlap with existing requirements. The sheer accumulation of regulations can cause real harm, especially for small businesses and startups."

To that end, OIRA is asking agencies to consider nine different ways regulations could impact citizens and businesses.

Among those steps, OIRA wants agencies to:

  • Talk to stakeholders to identify possible areas of redundancy;

  • Consult state and local governments and businesses in advance of proposed rules to identify possible cumulative burdens;

  • Give small businesses and micro-businesses specific consideration of the impact new regulations would have on them;

  • Analyze cost and benefits of new and existing regulations;

  • Identify areas to integrate existing and new regulations to eliminate excessive costs or redundancy.

"It should be clear that a central goal of today's effort is to promote early consultation, so that unnecessary rules and redundant requirements can be avoided," Sunstein wrote. "Agencies will be reaching out to the public to promote that goal."

Agencies face deadline next month

Among the things the unified agenda memo directs agencies to do is to make sure timeframes to complete a regulation are accurate, ensure data is consistent and update abstracts to give stakeholders a clear understanding of what the rulemaking effort will address.

All materials for the unified agenda are due to OIRA by April 13.

"Agencies can help achieve the objective of open-government by making clear, meaningful and informative contributions to the Unified Agenda. As you prepare your Unified Agenda submission, please keep in mind the need to make the regulatory process more transparent and accessible and the underlying objectives of better planning and coordination of the regulatory process," Sunstein wrote. "The value of the Unified Agenda depends upon the accuracy and timeliness of its content. I urge you to take this opportunity to help us make these documents as useful to the public as possible."

Both of these memos build upon the administration's goals of reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and citizens.

Agencies developed plans, released in August, to reduce rules and save potentially $10 billion over the next five years. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in January 2011 telling agencies to improve and reduce the number of regulations.

Sunstein's memo to reduce cumulative effect of regulations was criticized by some good government groups and unions.

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), which includes the AFL-CIO, OMBWatch and the National Employment Law Project, said OIRA's focus is misplaced.

"If agencies are distracted from their core missions of protecting the public because they have to endlessly analyze the cumulative effects of regulation, everyone loses," said OMBWatch president and CSS co-chairwoman Katherine McFate in a release. "Health, safety, environmental and financial safeguards are critical to protecting American families and sustainable economic growth."

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