Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should extend all open rulemaking comment periods for a minimum of 35 days to alleviate widespread confusion over the public’s ability to weigh in on pending rulemakings during the government shutdown, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS) said in a letter sent to the agency today. Extending the comment period for all open rulemakings is the only way to guarantee that the shutdown did not deprive the public of its fundamental right to make its voice heard in the rulemaking process, CSS says.
“We know that throughout the shutdown big business remained in touch with the Trump administration, even the shut-down agencies. But for the public, it was a complete mystery whether their right to submit formal comments to government agencies was operational or suspended. The only solution to this confusion is for the Trump administration to extend all notice-and-comment deadlines for 35 days to make up for the period of the partial shutdown,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and CSS co-chair.
“The federal government has a responsibility to fully analyze all of the comments submitted by the American public before proceeding with final regulatory action. The regulatory clocks needed to stop during the shutdown to ensure government staff could fully incorporate comments into regulatory proceedings when the government reopened,” said Jack Gillis, executive director of Consumer Federation of America and CSS co-chair.
Notice and comment procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act are integral to public participation, transparency and accountability in the rulemaking process. During the partial government shutdown that lasted from Dec. 22, 2018 through Jan. 25, 2019, roughly a quarter of federal agencies, including OMB, were paralyzed. As a result, the main vehicles for public participation in rulemaking – Regulations.gov and FederalRegister.gov – were not fully and continuously operational. Numerous comment periods closed during the shutdown, and more than 400 comment periods are due to close in the next 30 days. Moreover, there was never a definitive statement from administration officials as to whether public comments or requests for agency action were being accepted and considered during the shutdown.
The U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the White House office that reviews regulations, sent mixed and often cryptic messages as to whether it would conduct regulatory review during the shutdown. The agency issued an update stating that it would review some regulatory actions during the shutdown but failed to articulate a clear standard for which ones. As with the notice-and-comment process, there was considerable confusion over whether OIRA was even open to members of the public who wished to share their views on rules undergoing review. In addition, the shutdown may have prevented agencies from scheduling public hearings or responding to requests for public comment extensions.
CSS believes that a blanket extension of all comment periods for 35 days would resolve these uncertainties without jeopardizing the public’s right to participate in the rulemaking process.
CSS is an alliance of more than 160 labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental and public interest groups committed to advancing our system of regulatory protections. The coalition is co-chaired by Public Citizen and Consumer Federation of America, and is led by an executive committee that includes the AFL-CIO, the Center for Progressive Reform, the Economic Policy Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Contact: David Rosen, (202) 588-7742