Better Late Than Never: OIRAs Meeting Logs Just Got a Lot More Transparent
Center for Progressive Reform 2014-04-10
This week the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) - the obscure White House Office charged with reviewing and approving agencies' regulations - took an important and much-appreciated step in the direction of greater transparency by updating and improving its electronic database of lobbying meetings records that the agency holds with outside groups concerning the rules undergoing review. As detailed in a 2011 CPR report, corporate interests have long used OIRA as a court of last resort for seeking relief from regulatory requirements they find inconvenient; these lobbying meetings provide them with a powerful and secretive forum in which to push for substantive changes to critical agency safeguards that would ensure the public continues to bear the cost of their polluting activities. With the improved database, the public, policymakers, and the media will be better able to track the efforts of corporate interests to exploit the OIRA review process to weaken or block regulatory protections. Before the upgrade, OIRA docketed all its meetings in a barebones and often careless fashion on a separate section of its website. As the 2011 CPR report explained, the meetings dockets suffered several serious flaws. The meetings were not linked to the rule undergoing review that was the subject of the meeting, nor was there any standardized format for documenting what rule was the subject of the meeting. Often, interested members of the public would have to consult a number of different sources to verify what rule was at issue in a given meeting. To make matters worse, key meetings log data - including the attendees of the meeting and their affiliations - were often rife with typos and inaccurate or incomplete information. These log data were also supposed to provide links to all documents presented at the meeting, but in some cases the links do not work. Even when accurate, the meetings data were of limited utility because they were not presented in a searchable database. If, for example, a member of the public wanted to see how many meetings took place with regard to a particular rule, he or she would have to assemble these data manually. CPR sought to overcome this problem by creating its own searchable meeting database, which available here.