Wednesday, August 15, 2007

GAO Releases Major Report On Agencies Regulations Review

Aug 15: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, Reexamining Regulations: Opportunities Exist to Improve Effectiveness and Transparency of Retrospective Reviews (GAO-07-791, July 16, 2007). The report was prepared at the request of Representative Joe Barton (R-TX), Ranking Member Committee on Energy and Commerce; and Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Ranking Member Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Congress and presidents require agencies to review existing regulations to determine whether they should be retained, amended, or rescinded, among other things. GAO was asked to report the following for agency reviews: (1) numbers and types completed from 2001 through 2006; (2) processes and standards that guided planning, conducting, and reporting; (3) outcomes; and (4) factors that helped or impeded in conducting and using them. GAO evaluated the activities of nine agencies covering health, safety, environmental, financial, and economic regulations and accounting for almost 60 percent of all final regulations issued within the review period. GAO also reviewed available documentation, assessed a sample of completed reviews, and solicited perspectives on the conduct and usefulness of reviews from agency officials and knowledgeable nonfederal parties.

GAO found from 2001 through 2006, the selected agencies completed over 1,300 reviews of existing regulations. The processes and standards guiding reviews varied across agencies and the impetus and phase of the review process. They varied by the extent to which agencies applied a standards-based approach, incorporated public participation, and provided complete and transparent documentation. The outcomes of reviews included amendments to regulations, changes to guidance and related documents, decisions to conduct additional studies, and confirmation that existing rules achieved the intended results.

Nonfederal parties said that the lack of transparency was a barrier; they were rarely aware of the agencies’ reviews. Both agencies and nonfederal parties identified limited public participation as a barrier. To help improve the conduct and usefulness of reviews, agencies and nonfederal parties suggested practices such as pre-planning to identify data needed to conduct effective reviews, a prioritization process to address time and resource barriers, high-level management support, grouping related regulations together when conducting reviews, and making greater use of diverse communication technologies and venues to promote public participation.

GAO recommended that agencies incorporate various elements into their policies and procedures to improve the effectiveness and transparency of retrospective regulatory reviews and that they identify opportunities for Congress to revise and consolidate existing requirements. In commenting on a draft of this report, SBA’s Office of Advocacy agreed with and provided updated guidance in response to the recommendations. OMB reported having no comments on the draft. All others provided technical comments.

Access the complete 122-page report (
click here). [*All]