Midnight Regulations? If ‘Midnight’ Means December 2006

By October 31, 2008Human Resources

The Washington Post publishes today as its lead, page one story, “A Last Push to Deregulate” with a subhed, “White House to Ease Many Rules.”

The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Given the placement and the headline’s tone, we anticipated another bit of agenda journalism, especially since the first source cited is one of the regulatory zealots at the group, OMB Watch.

OMB Watch leads its website with activist huffing and puffing about “midnight regulations,” the nefarious practice of enacting last-minute regulations. ABC News has already bought OMB Watch’s spiel doing a segment yesterday, “The Bush Administration’s Midnight Regulations,” referring to the lead OMB spokesman and activist on the issue as an “expert.” Right. Disinterested expert.

But, kudos, the Post story is pretty balanced. It gives the Administration a place to state its case up high in the story, noting the deadlines that OMB set to allow a full examination of regulations before they’re promulgated. The reporter, R. Jeffrey Smith, describes the Clinton Administration’s undisciplined, partisan rush of last-minute regs, as well, providing some grounds for comparison: “While it remains unclear how much the administration will be able to accomplish in the coming weeks, the last-minute rush appears to involve fewer regulations than Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, approved at the end of his tenure.” Including some enacted even AFTER the Clinton Administration left office.

So good job, Washington Post. Hope all the other media outlets that get lobbied into a story by OMB Watch strive for as much accuracy, balance and context. We did laugh when we encountered this paragraph, though:

As many as 90 new regulations are in the works, and at least nine of them are considered “economically significant” because they impose costs or promote societal benefits that exceed $100 million annually. They include new rules governing employees who take family- and medical-related leaves, new standards for preventing or containing oil spills, and a simplified process for settling real estate transactions.

Surely no one is going to be audacious enough to claim proposed Family and Medical Leave Act regulations are last-minute, perfidious “midnight regulations.” The Department of Labor’s Employment Standards Administration issued a request for information on the FMLA on December 1, 2006.

Working on a regulation for nearly two years really doesn’t qualify as a midnight regulation.

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