A Federal Report item Tuesday provided an inaccurate description of legislative proposals advocated in a recent report by the Office of Managment and Budget. The report supports lifting specific legislative restrictions on OMB's paperwork review authority; it makes no mention of broadening OMB's regulatory and paperwork review power to any agencies not now subject to its authority.
It all seemed very straightforward. Among the events scheduled for the state visit of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney later this month was a formal exchange of documents that would end 15 years of treaty negotiations over the care, feeding and distribution of salmon in Pacific Northwest waters.
But last week, a little black raincloud appeared on the horizon, in the form of a letter from Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman to the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries subcommittee that has custody of legislation to implement the treaty.
The letter arrived at the subcommittee on fisheries and wildlife conservation and the environment after State Department officials had testified in favor of the legislation. So it came as a surprise that Stockman objected to a provision that "would exempt all regulations adopted pursuant to the proposed Pacific Salmon Treaty from the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 . . . . "
"Reducing the burden of federal regulations and paperwork on the public is a major goal of this administration . . . . A statutory exemption to procedures used to promulgate federal regulations establishes a dangerous and unfortunate precedent . . . . In light of the preceding, the administration is strongly opposed to the enactment" of the legislation with the offending section intact.
The letter left subcommittee Chairman John B. Breaux (D-La.) and committee Chairman Walter B. Jones (D-N.C.) nonplused.
They had introduced the measure Feb. 7 and put it on a legislative express train at the administration's behest. The theory was that a clean implementation bill would quell suspicions among domestic fishing groups (chiefly residents of Alaska and Washington and certain Indian tribes) who grudgingly supported the Senate measure that would ratify the treaty. The vote on ratification is tentatively scheduled for this week.
If these suspicions were aroused, ratification was in jeopardy, according to the theory. No ratification, no salmon diplomacy when Mulrooney came to town.
A Breaux aide said the congressman's position was that "if the administration had conflicting positions on the measure, then we were going with the one supported by the people who came to the hearing." If the conflict was resolved, however, the committee would go along with the prevailing administration view.
After phone calls between State, the Commerce Department, the Interior Department, the offices of key senators and the treaty negotiators, State Department counselor Edward J. Derwinski informed the House committee yesterday that State also wanted the provision deleted, a committee aide said.
"I think there were many more important problems that we managed to overcome," said Theodore G. Kronmiller, the treaty's chief negotiator. While acknowledging the utility of the Paperwork Reduction Act, Kronmiller said, "It is unfortunate . . . the OMB felt compelled to take it to the point it did . . . . "
State and the other agencies involved did not heed OMB's demand, however, until William P. Horn, deputy undersecretary of Interior, was assured Friday by Douglas Ginsburg, administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, that if some threat to the salmon required immediate regulatory action, the OMB would not impede the nece in winning President Reagan's approval for the new prerulemaking reviews of executive branch regulations, the OMB, according to a recently released report, is planning legislation that would expand its regulatory review and paper work authority to independent regulatory agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
According to one staff member of the organization OMB Watch, Ginsburg, the OIRA administrator, recently told the Federal Bar Association that the new powers invested in OMB under the January executive order, and the new powers it seeks, are a necessary antidote to a decade-long trend that has seen executive powers slip away to Congress.