Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.), the subcommittee chairman, also has pushed for the Bush administration to be more aggressive in reviewing rules that were issued before 2001 -- and there are thousands of those.
Graham tried to explain the magnitude of the job during the hearing. He said 109,710 rules have been issued since 1981, calling them a "sea of existing federal regulations." And about 20,000 of them have been reviewed by the OMB. He said some progress has been made in culling the existing rules, or at least designating them as high priority or sending them to agencies for action. He reported to the subcommittee that agencies took "action" on 72 of the 387 nominations submitted in 2001 and 2002.
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An OMB official said Graham's office would supply the subcommittee with raw data, a chart for each agency, or a giant chart tracking the hundreds of nominations after agencies respond to a recent "data call."
Ose, who is serving his last term in Congress, was patient but insistent, especially since notice of the hearing went out in September. He pressed Graham to submit whatever OIRA could compile by Nov. 30. Graham did, with what he characterized as information "only partially responsive to your request."
"It's very frustrating," Ose said in a recent interview. "I'm going to be asking for this stuff. I'm going to keep asking him for the material because we need the certainty that we know what is working and what is not working and what is achieving its objective and what is not."
Regulatory experts want more than charts. They suggest posting progress on OMB's Web site on a monthly or semiannual basis; passing legislation that would make a review of major rules mandatory every 10 years; and requiring agencies to keep the public updated on rule reforms in their semiannual regulatory agendas, which are published in the Federal Register.
Public interest groups also would like to see clearly where nominations are in the regulatory pipeline at each agency, since controversial rulemakings, such as revamping overtime rules and trying to change family leave requirements, were pushed by business and came in as recommendations for "reform."
"The Bush administration has an obligation to make information available to the public. They have put corporate interest over public interest repeatedly. They have an obligation to make those nominations fully public," said Gary Bass, director of OMB Watch, a public interest group that monitors the OMB -- and was not invited to the hearing.
This isn't the first time an administration has tried to clean its regulatory closet. What usually happens is a well-intentioned first weeding and then the effort goes to seed. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush also had initiatives to streamline the regulatory process.
Susan Dudley of George Mason University's Mercatus Center, which was the most prolific nominator in 2001 (44 of the 71 recommendations), said the current administration has done a better job than its predecessors of holding the line on new rules. But reviewing existing regulations has taken a back seat.
"The administration has an opportunity in its second term to establish procedures for 'sunsetting' rules that have outlived their purpose and reforming regulations that have had unintended consequences," said Dudley, who directs the center's regulatory studies program.