Regulators Ordered to Leave Work Unfinished

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In its first hours, the Obama administration took an initial step to put its imprint on the government, ordering work halted on all federal regulations left unfinished at the end of the Bush era until they can be reviewed by the new president's team.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dispatched a memo yesterday afternoon to federal agencies and departments, directing them to stop pending rules until the new administration has time to conduct a "legal and policy review" of each one. The directive has become a first-day tradition among presidents, dating to Ronald Reagan in 1981, helping incoming administrations put their own philosophical stamp on the regulatory work that is a subtle but potent tool of presidential power.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did the same thing.

Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton said yesterday evening that he was uncertain how many unfinished rules the new administration has inherited. In a parting note late last week, Susan Dudley, the Office of Management and Budget official who oversaw regulatory work under Bush, said that the administration had issued 100 final rules since November, when Obama won the presidency, fewer than in the final weeks of Clinton's tenure. It is unclear, however, how many of them still have not taken effect -- or how many regulations are left over in earlier phases.

Emanuel's memo does not apply to last-minute Bush administration rules that have taken legal effect, including a controversial one that went into place yesterday that allows health-care workers to refuse to take part in medical procedures, including abortions, to which they object. The Democratic-led Congress or Obama also could choose to try to reverse such finished rules, although Burton declined to say whether that was likely.

Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.

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