A Move Towards Transparency, or More of the Same?

Transparency and disclosure are regulatory buzz words, corresponding to demand for information about how the government makes decisions and the information used to justify those decisions. In an interesting turn of events, Republicans have begun to introduce or support bills promoting transparency in the rule making process. The bills are less about shining sunlight on the rule making process, however, and more about restricting the rule making process and the types of information agencies can use.

One such bill, recently approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, would require federal agencies to give more notice on upcoming regulations. The All Economic Regulations are Transparent Act of 2013 would require the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to post rules online for six months before they are finalized. Agencies would also be required to submit monthly reports and summaries on new rules, including cost estimates. According to Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), the Act would “provide certainty to the American people.” Democrats disagree, however, arguing that the bill would impede the government’s ability to implement new rules, calling it “another attack on agency rulings that ins being mischaracterized as government transparency.”

A second bill, introduced by Republican Representative David Schweikert (AZ) is intended to make agency science “more accessible.” The Secret Science Reform Act, H.R. 4012, would accomplish this by prohibiting EPA from using data or scientific studies that are not publicly available. According to Schweikert, the bill would ensure that those who are interested in understanding, analyzing, and forming an opinion about an issue have access to the underlying data. Democrats disagree, however, arguing that the bill could bar EPA from using the best available science because it would prohibit EPA from considering studies that are not publicly available. Ellen Silbergeld, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, agreed, saying that the bill, which would essentially “crowd-source science,” is not such a great idea. Similarly, John Walke, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, sent a letter to the panel calling it “deeply troubling” because it would force EPA to ignore scientific studies.

While Democrats and Republicans disagree about the meaning of “transparency” and “disclosure,” government watchdog groups, like the Center for Effective Government, continue to push for change.

 

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