Meet OIRA – The Secretive White House Office with Disturbing Regulatory Powers

But in practice, OIRA operates largely in secret, exempt from most requests under the Freedom of Information Act. It routinely declines to release the changes it has proposed, the evidence it has relied upon to make them, or the identities and affiliations of White House advisers and other agencies’ staff it has consulted. OIRA doesn’t even disclose the names and credentials of its employees other than its two most senior officials. In 2013 the Administrative Conference, an independent federal agency that reviews government administrative processes, released a study of OIRA’s effect on the application and interpretation of science the agencies gather and analyze to write rules. In examining a group of air-quality regulations, the study found that most of OIRA’s suggestions involved substantive changes. The report concluded that in some instances, the office has proposed changes to the basic science underlying the rules. These included revising numbers in tables created by the EPA, altering technical discussions and recommending different standards altogether.
- From ProPublica’s extremely important article: Lobbyists Bidding to Block Government Regs Set Sights on Secretive White House Office.
Have you ever heard of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, otherwise known as OIRA? Yeah, neither had I.
As someone who prides himself on being a relatively informed citizen, it is always shocking and disturbing when I learn of a powerful organization operating in the shadows of America’s faux democracy with which I am almost entirely unfamiliar. While I’m sure I’ve read many articles in which OIRA was mentioned, I had never fully understood exactly what it is, and how it is used by lobbyists and large corporate interests to further entrench the established oligarchic power structure. We can thank ProPublica for providing this service.

Let’s start off with a little background. OIRA was created in 1980, and shortly thereafter the Reagan administration greatly expanded its powers by signing an executive order that gave the office the authority to review all federal rules. Ever since then, it has been used to rewrite or entirely block regulations from almost every regulatory body imaginable. While the initial idea of a government body to review newly proposed regulations and gather additional feedback before implementation is a noble one, in practice it has amounted to nothing more than the censorship of science in the name of protecting large corporate interests. Most importantly, all of this happens in total darkness.
For example, ProPublica notes that OIRA is disturbingly exempt from most requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For example, the public cannot even find out the qualifications of the people who make drastic changes to proposed environmental regulations. In one specific case regarding a proposed EPA rule, we see an economist and a lawyer completely overruling peer-reviewed science.
Significantly, OIRA doesn’t just interfere every once in a while. As ProPublic notes: “84% of the EPA’s proposed rules from 2001 to 2011 featured changes suggested by OIRA.” As mentioned earlier, the American public has no idea what was changed, why, or the qualifications of the people who made the changes. All of that is intentionally kept completely secret. Surely, in order to protect us from terrorists or something.
Even more worrisome, OIRA power is not only wielded for corporate profit protection purposes, but for political purposes as well. For example, according to OIRA’s governing executive order, it is supposed to complete its review within 90 days of receiving a proposed regulation. Nevertheless, “delays reached an all-time peak under President Obama between 2011 and 2013.”
High level EPA officials believe this was due to the 2012 election and not wanting to review any potentially controversial environmental regulations ahead of it. Quite often an OIRA strategy is to simply never review a proposed regulation until the regulatory body gives up and pulls it.
The anti-democratic, secretive and feudal power vested in the OIRA is an issue with which I was entirely unaware, but it is extremely important nonetheless. Here are some excerpts from ProPublica’s very important article:
 A series of executive orders over the past three decades have given OIRA significant authority to reassess rules on every imaginable subject, from health care to the environment to transportation