October 18, 2012

ACUS Must Ensure Neutrality and Cease Close Alliances with Industry Groups, Member Scholars Say in Letter

CPR President Rena Steinzor and Member Scholar Thomas McGarity sent a letter this morning to Paul Verkuil, Chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), taking the independent federal agency to task for its increasingly apparent bias toward the views of industry groups and its troubling alliance with current and former officials at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  By repeatedly partnering with groups engaged in destructive battles with the agencies that write protective regulations, ACUS deviates from its stated mission of “providing nonpartisan expert advice and recommendations for improvement of federal agency procedures,” argue Steinzor and McGarity.

After losing its funding in 1995, ACUS was officially revived in 2010 at the urging of a broad spectrum of experts and organizations, including public interest groups, some of which are represented among ACUS’ membership.  As Steinzor and McGarity write:

[One] reason advanced for ACUS’ reemergence was the inability of existing institutions, such as OIRA itself, to be reliably neutral and independent in studying ways to improve the administrative process.  If ACUS comes to be seen as merely another vehicle for OIRA loyalists and their industry allies to press their agendas and drown out opposing voices, then ACUS will lose part of its distinctive raison d'être.

In that event, they suggest, many of ACUS’ original supporters may be forced to reassess its value and even withdraw from the organization.

Among other things, Steinzor and McGarity discuss ACUS’ decision to lend its imprimatur to a one-sided workshop next Tuesday hosted by trade associations and industry-friendly think tanks.  Worse still, the workshop will address the quality of chemical risk assessments and the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), a subject that industry groups are only too eager to co-opt in their efforts to attack regulation, and which lies outside ACUS’ expertise in administrative procedures.

Steinzor and McGarity also express dismay at ACUS’ refusal to take up issues related to OIRA, even when they are legitimately implicated by one of its research projects:

In the lead-up to ACUS’ reauthorization and funding, those urging the return of the organization expected that, among other things, it would study and make recommendations related to OIRA’s review of agency rulemaking, including the transparency of that process.   ACUS’ reluctance to address—or even take notice of—procedural problems in centralized review suggests an internal bias in favor of OIRA…. … Furthermore, the polite reassurances that the OIRA issues will be shelved for “another report and another day” ring hollow, since there appear to be no plans to take them up in the foreseeable future.

These biases are partially explained (and exacerbated) by the fact that ACUS’ governing Council is lopsided in favor of OIRA partisans and industry advocates, a flaw that Steinzor and McGarity urge ACUS to rectify.

The letter is here.

Michael Patoka, Policy Analyst, Center for Progressive Reform. Bio.

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