CNSNews.com) – The head of the executive agency charged with reviewing the legality and economic impact of new federal rules admitted that he was “not familiar” with the Obama administration’s well-publicized proposal to ban ammunition for AR-15 rifles.
Howard Shelanski, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), made the admission during a heated exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Tuesday.
Jordan asked Shelanski about a proposal by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to exempt itself from the normal rulemaking process when banning the commonly used M855 ball ammunition.
The exemption would allow ATF to circumvent OIRA review.
More than 200 members of Congress have signed a letter to ATF director Todd Jones stating that “under no circumstances should ATF adopt a standard that will ban ammunition that is overwhelmingly used by law-abiding Americans for legitimate purposes.”
“They have said they’re not going to follow the normal process, the most transparent process, they’re going to deviate from that, they’re not going to have public notice and public comment,” Jordan said, asking Shelanski if he was aware of the proposal.
Shelanski claimed he was not. “OIRA does not review all executive branch rules…” he began.
“That’s fine, I’m asking about one in particular,” Jordan interjected.
“...so, it would not be our place to say that," Shelanski replied.
“You’ve had no influence, no say, on ATF’s decision not to follow public notice and public comment? Do you expect to have any say in their decision?” Jordan asked him.
“I’m not familiar with this particular regulation so I cannot comment,” Shelanski reiterated. "It is neither the goal nor the scope of OIRA to go into every agency or every rule of the federal government and second guess the process," he noted.
Jordan fired back: “Well, lots of Americans are familiar with it...Do you plan to check out this rule?”
"As I think I made clear, we don't review all federal rules..." Shelanski replied. "We question agencies that have submitted the rule to us for review..."
"I disagree with both the procedure and the substantive change," a clearly frustrated Jordan said. “This is a rule that'as been in place since 1986 and they’re suddenly just going to change it, and there’s no review process."
Shelanski replied that "there is a review process. First of all, the agency is responsible for that policy...
"They've already told us what they're doing," Jordan interjected.
"...an interim final rule goes out for public comment after it's enacted, so there's a chance for public comment, and there's judicial review," Shelanski continued.
"Mr. Chairman, thank you for your indulgence on the time. But we’ve been running circles around this. This is just not transparent the way it's supposed to work," Jordan said.
Other House members from both parties also had stern words for Shelanski, voicing concerns that OIRA’s decision-making process was not transparent, and that it was too susceptible to influence from special interests
“OIRA is the gatekeeper over poor regulatory analysis. It is your agency’s charge to look at that,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, which joined the Subcommittee on Health Care to question Shelanski.
OIRA, created by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, draws its present-day authority from Executive Orders 12866 and 13563. Its mission is to ensure that federal agencies “promulgate only such regulations as are required by law, are necessary to interpret the law, or are made necessary by compelling public need.”
OIRA has the discretion of whether to deem a rule as “major,” subjecting it to OIRA review. Technically, a rule that has an annual economic effect of $100 million or more is classified as major, but the calculations feeding into that estimate are not made public. The decision is made by the OIRA administrator in consultation with the agency making the rule and other third parties, such as lobbyists.
“The public has a right to know why OIRA classifies certain rules as major, and the public has a right to know why some rules sit under OIRA review for two years when the review is supposed to take only 90 days," Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) told Shelanski.
"The public also has a right to know who is weighing in on these regulations and the nature of the deliberations,” Connolly added.
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-OH) was even more direct in questioning the role that special interests play in OIRA’s process.
He pointed to a 2011 report from the liberal Center for Progressive Reform.
The report found that in 5,759 meetings with OIRA officials about the rulemaking process in the preceding decade, 65 percent of meetings were with representatives of “regulated industry interests” such as ExxonMobil.
Other groups included Washington, D.C.-based law firms representing different interests, and non-profits such as the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund.
“There is a sense in America that a fox is guarding the hen house,” Rep. Cartwright told Shelanski.
At one point, Rep. Connolly appeared dumbfounded by Shelanski’s responses.
Referencing a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Connolly said, “The GAO found that 72 percent of [rules] it [OIRA] reviewed had no explanation… Isn’t the public entitled to know why you deemed [them] significant?”
Shelanski responded, “We could certainly look into ways to provide that explanation, but as a general matter…” at which point Connolly cut him off, saying, “Maybe I’m misreading you, Mr. Shelanski, but you’re acting as if what I just read to you is news to you. Were you not aware of the GAO report?”
Shelanski answered “Yes,” adding, "You know, we are in the process of discussing the GAO report, and I don’t have any further comment on that right now.”
“Ok, well, our committee may have some comments on it," Connolly retorted.