The Office of Management and Budget succumbed to congressional pressure yesterday and agreed to fuller disclosure of its role in reviewing proposed federal regulations.
OMB circulated a letter to the staff of its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs outlining "far-ranging" changes in its procedures, said Wendy Lee Gramm, director of the office.
OIRA has been accused of sitting on regulations, weakening them, intimidating bureaucrats not to propose them, undermining their implementation, holding private meetings with industry and operating in secret.
Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), a leader of a bipartisan group of congressmen who threatened to cut OMB funding by the $5.4 million required to run the regulatory office, said, "Up until now, I worry that OMB's idea of 'executing' the laws is to give a lot of proposed rules the deep six."
Another leader of the effort, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said, "No longer will OMB operate within the shade-drawn, doors-closed, no-fingerprints environment in which it has operated for the past five years."
All original versions of draft and final rules sent to OMB will now be made public upon request, along with OMB's written suggested changes and the reasons for them. At present, only the published version of a rule -- in which OMB's revisions cannot be tracked -- is available. The new procedures also require OMB to release, upon request by the agency involved, lists of phone calls, meetings and written material received from industry and other interested parties.
OMB director James C. Miller III said the new rules "provide the most disclosure ever for any of the presidential regulatory review processes of the last four administrations."
Efforts to cut off funds for the office appeared to remain on track in the House, however, where Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) are leading an effort to strike OIRA's entire budget when OMB's appropriation is marked up, perhaps this week.
President Reagan came into office determined to reduce federal regulation and issued an executive order within a month of his inauguration directing the OMB to scrutinize rules for duplication, conflict, and cost effectiveness.
Since then, OMB's review authority has been under almost continuous attack. A lawsuit has been filed challenging its role in limiting a recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule, and a decision is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Although federal agencies, with their technical specialists and scientists, are legally required to make the final decision on a rule, the OMB, which controls the agency's budget, has more clout in practice than some department heads.
Almost a quarter of all rules sent to OMB for review were changed last year at the budget office's direction, according to OMB statistics.
Under the new rules, Levin said, "Congress and the public will know exactly the extent to which OMB affected the outcome of a rule and the basis upon which OMB argued for its position . . . . The public will know whom it should be lobbying on specific issues because it will know from which agency the criticisms of the rule are coming.
"By disclosing the draft proposed and final rules . . . and by having a list of the outside parties with whom OMB has talked . . . we can restore confidence in the integrity of the rulemaking process," he said.