The chairmen of five House committees have accused the Office of Management and Budget of illegally turning itself into a "superagency" that interferes with other agencies when they draft health, safety and environmental regulations.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals here Friday, the five lawmakers said the OMB, under a 1981 executive order, has engaged in an "arrogation of rule-making power" by overruling such agencies as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.
The brief was filed in support of a petition by the Public Citizen Health Research Group, which contends that the OMB substantially weakened a proposed OSHA rule intended to protect about 70,000 hospital workers from exposure to ethylene oxide, a suspected carcinogen.
"OMB has utilized its purported authority under Executive Order 12291 to force OSHA to drop a vital occupational health standard that was fully supported by the agency record," the brief said. " . . . This case, however, is far from an isolated example. OMB interference in agency rule-making -- in contravention of the will of Congress -- has become pervasive."
Critics have charged that the OMB has relaxed health and safety regulations to reduce the costs of compliance for the business community.
OMB spokesman Edwin L. Dale Jr. said yesterday that the agency "obviously thinks our authority is being properly exercised" in line with President Reagan's directive, which was intended to reduce the burden of federal regulations. Dale said the Justice Department has concluded that Reagan's order is within presidential authority.
The brief argues that Congress delegated its legislative powers to specific agencies, but did not assign such authority to the OMB. The brief was filed by Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the Government Operations Committee; Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and William D. Ford (D-Mich.), chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee.