OMB Letters to HHS, OSHA on Labeling, Defibrillators ‘Unprecedented’
Letters sent this week by the White House Office of Management and Budget "urging" two federal agencies to adopt regulations encouraging use of automated external defibrillators and labeling foods with trans-fatty acid content represent an "unprecedented step," the Washington Post reports. John Graham, head of the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, sent one "prompt letter" to HHS asking the department to adopt a rule requiring labeling of foods containing trans fat, proposed by the FDA in 1999. Graham sent the other letter, which encouraged defibrillator use, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The letters do not "carry legal weight," the Post reports. In a release, Graham said that they are meant to attract "agency and public attention to important issues that warrant consideration and action." The release states that the letters are the first time that OMB has "publicly used its analytic resources to encourage new regulatory actions as opposed to reviewing decisions initiated by agencies."
Science and environmental advocacy groups gave the letters "mixed reviews," the Post reports. "[A]ll" the groups "expressed surprise" that Graham -- "who was criticized during his confirmation process as being a foe of regulations" -- had sent the letters. "From the health side, it's wonderful. We were pleased to see OMB take an active role," Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said. But Wesley Warren, an environmental economist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "This new administration is wielding an unusual and unprecedented power over the agency regulatory process. On the face of it, it seems to be a good thing." He added, "But if there is going to be the substitution of White House political judgment for the ongoing expertise of agencies, it could be harmful" (Nakashima, Washington Post, 9/21). To view the letter to HHS, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/hhs_prompt_letter.html. To view the letter to OSHA, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/osha_prompt_letter.html