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Washington Update: The lost agenda

January 1, 2013

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What is the White House currently working on, in terms of worker-safety regulation? Nearly a year has passed since the administration published its last Unified Agenda, which details all “economically significant” regulations currently under development or review, or expected to be addressed within 12 months of the agenda’s publication.

This agenda is required to be published every six months, yet the last one released was the fall 2011 agenda, published Jan. 20, 2012. When Safety+Health went to press, neither the spring 2012 nor the fall 2012 agenda had been published.

“Current law was designed to protect the public’s right to know about rules and regulations being crafted behind closed doors of the federal bureaucracy,” Rep. John Kline (R-MN) said in a Nov. 1 statement. “However, on a range of issues including health care, retirement security and workplace safety, the president seems determined to keep his plans for new regulations secret.”

Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, suggested the Obama administration was playing a “game of regulatory hide-and-seek” by its failure to publish the agenda. The administration indicated to Kline that it would not publish the spring 2012 agenda but would instead move forward with publishing the fall 2012 agenda, he said.

An Oct. 25 letter from the committee to Boris Bershteyn – acting administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which publishes the agenda – asked why the spring agenda was never published and when the fall agenda was expected to be released.

The letter requested a response by Nov. 8, but a committee spokesperson told S+H in mid-November the administration had not answered the questions or provided requested materials.

In response to press-time queries from S+H, the Office of Management and Budget – which oversees OIRA – said federal agencies were compiling information for an updated agenda. OIRA said something similar in early October, when it indicated to the committee that the publication of the spring agenda was held to “reflect changes in the law,” according to the letter.

“Given the ever-changing regulatory environment, if the Unified Agenda was delayed to accommodate changes in the law, it could be delayed for months on end,” the committee stated in the letter. Additionally, the agenda is merely meant to be a “snapshot” in time to show the status of proposed regulations at particular points in time. According to the committee, any delays – regardless of the reasoning – in issuing the agenda are “unacceptable and unlawful.”

Despite the strong words from Kline and his committee, other stakeholders are less concerned.

“I don’t think you need a document posted on reginfo.gov or published in the Federal Register to know what the major rulemakings of OSHA are,” AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health Peg Seminario told S+H. “What we want to see is [OSHA] moving forward, not a schedule posted on a website.”

Seminario said the agenda “outlines” agencies’ priorities. And as noted in previous Washington Update columns, the schedule and deadlines listed on the agenda are rarely adhered to, sometimes missing the planned dates by months.

Seminario certainly has a point when she says publication of an inaccurate document outlining potential regulatory steps is less important than the actual steps being taken. Yet her view does not completely invalidate Kline’s point. The public should know the status of regulatory steps being taken, as well as what steps the administration intends to take regarding future regulation.

The opinions expressed in “Washington Update” do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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