President Reagan yesterday issued an executive order that could expand greatly the authority of the Office of Management and Budget to control government policy-making.
The order will allow it to screen other agencies' regulatory proposals before the rules are drafted formally or announced publicly.
Reagan said yesterday, "In the past three years, we have eliminated many needless rules, revised ill-conceived ones and held the number of new rules to the minimum necessary . . . . Much more can and should be done."
Under the new procedures, the heads of most agencies will be required early each year to submit to OMB a list of regulations the agency plans to propose in the coming year.
Reagan's order said the list must include an explanation of "how each new activity will carry out the regulatory policies of this administration . . . . The overview should specifically discuss the significant regulatory actions of the agency to revise or rescind existing rules."
Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of public interest groups, criticized the order yesterday, saying, "It gives OMB, an agency which is not accountable to the public and operates in secret without public knowledge, enormous power over federal rulemaking. They could veto proposed rules before they appear in the Federal Register, before the public gets a chance to learn about them."
Noting that Congress previously refused to pass legislation formalizing OMB's role in screening agency rulemaking, Aron said she believes that the change will have a damaging effect on federal protections of public safety and civil rights.
David Plocher of OMB Watch, a private group that monitors the agency, warned that there is no provision for congressional review of OMB's rulemaking. "OMB has been given carte blanche to go into virtually any corner of agency action and OMB could now go in and force an agency to abandon a proposed rule long before the affected constituency would hear of it."
In 1981, Reagan issued an executive order giving the budget agency power to review and request changes in final regulations from all agencies except independent regulatory commissions.
The new policy expands that role, giving OMB control over proposed rules before they are drafted.
OMB spokesman Edwin L. Dale Jr. said that after the first executive order, the latest one amounts to "a relatively small enhancement of basic OMB authority."
The order specifies that disagreements between OMB Director David A. Stockman and an agency head over a proposed regulation are to be resolved by Reagan or his designate.
Until now, OMB has received a semiannual regulatory calendar from each agency listing planned rule changes, but these documents had little, if any, effect on the agencies. The new order would give OMB a role in approving those calendars and would make the documents as binding as agency budgets are now.
All Cabinet agencies except the Defense Department would be subject to the new policy, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the General Services Administration, the Office of Personnel Management and the Veterans Administration.
The executive order does not apply to independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. The order also exempts regulations that must face tight judicial or statutory deadlines.