All over Capitol Hill committees are taking a new look at the Office of Management and Budget's regulatory review activities, concentrating on how the agency may have forced other agencies to change their regulatory decisions.
Employes of the House Judiciary and Senate Government Operations committees are trying to determine how the OMB gets its information about an agency rule, how it registers objections with the agency and what the agencies have done in response.
Some preliminary answers to these questions were revealed yesterday in the first hearing on the House version of new regulatory reform legislation. In response to a subcommittee questionnaire, the Health and Human Services Department reported that since President Reagan took office HHS submitted 104 proposals and 170 final rules to the OMB.
Six proposals and eight final rules were sent back because OMB officials said they felt they were inconsistent with the president's executive order on regulatory relief.
A "substantial number" of the returned proposals were modified, but most of the changes were "technical," worked out in telephone conversations, according to HHS. Of the final rules, one, involving payments to rural health clinics, was modified.
HHS told the subcommittee that the OMB does not make its technical comments in writing, but if the OMB raises policy questions it "usually" returns the regulation with a letter explaining its objections, which HHS then puts in its record. SUMMER SEQUELS . . . Coming soon to a Federal Register or congressional office near you, two sequels guaranteed to strike outrage in the hearts of public interest lawyers and trade groups alike: Circular A-122 II and Lawyers' Fees II. For those who missed the original short-playing releases, these are plans to restrict the use of tax dollars for political advocacy (a proposed regulation) and to limit awards of plaintiffs' attorneys' fees in suits against the government (proposed legislation). OMB officials are reworking both ideas and expect to make new versions public before Labor Day. STRETCHING MONEY . . . The OMB figures that the government loses at least $480 million annually by its sloppy handling of the hundreds of billions of dollars that go in and out of federal agencies. So it has been asking agencies for plans to handle their cash more efficiently.
Yesterday the OMB sent letters to large agencies, approving their plans to handle more transactions through electronic transfers and ensure that checks are deposited the day they are received. The OMB said in a press release that the remaining agencies' plans would be approved by the end of June. THE PHANTOM SAFIRE . . . OMB mailboxes recently were stuffed with an anonymous compendium of malapropisms taken from the 1984 budget. Highlights, with editorial commentary by the OMB's closet linguist:
* "How's That Again? 'Those not released on bond or on their own recognizance are detained, usually in state or local jail facilities, on a reimbursable basis.' "
* "The Albert Einstein Award for the greatest number of equations in one sentence: 'The number of weeks an unemployed worker can receive unemployment insurance is increased by 50 percent, to a maximum of 39 weeks in any state where the unemployment rate of covered individuals claiming regulation benefits averages 5 percent or more for 13 consecutive weeks and is at least 120 percent of the rate in the corresponding period in each of the previous two years.' "
* "The many guises of inflation (abridged): As a sickness: ' . . . our nation has labored to purge itself of the inflationary disease' and 'those inflationary fevers.' As a force of physics: 'inflationary pressures,' 'upward momentum of inflation.' As a tornado: 'the damaging inflation spiral.' As a geological process: 'inflation-eroded military budgets.' As a manifestation of the subconscious: 'the long nightmare of runaway inflation.' "