Obama Administration Puts Pending Regulations on Hold

By January 21, 2009Regulations

From the Washington Post’s Federal Eye blog, “Obama Halts New or Pending Bush Regulations,” news that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has issued a memo (available here) announcing that President Barack Obama has ordered a freeze on new or proposed regulations at all government agencies and departments. The memo declares:

“…no proposed or final regulation should be sent to the Office of Federal Register for publication unless and until it has been reviewed and approved by a department or agency head appointed or designated by the President after noon on January 20, 2009, or in the case of the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense.”

The Post’s Ed O’Keefe also reports that the memo orders the “withdrawal of all final or proposed regulations not yet published by the Federal Register. Department and agency heads have also been asked to ‘consider extending for 60 days the effective date of regulations that have been published in the Federal Register but not yet taken effect’ unless they impact health, safety, environmental, financial, or national security matters — obviously now subject to the interpretation of Obama’s appointees.”

That a new Administration stops and reviews its predecessors’ regulations not yet in effect is an entirely reasonable and predictable act. Indeed, the Bush Administration moved deliberately on its final year’s regulatory agenda to put most of rules IN PLACE by the time it left office.

Norman Ornstein makes an interesting, related point in his NYT column Sunday about President Bush and his team’s handling of the transition to the Obama Administration, “Mr. Bush’s Gentlemanly Goodbye“:

To be sure, President Bush has signed some last-minute executive orders, especially in the environmental area, that will create headaches for Mr. Obama. But as a top Obama transition official told me, these were limited in number and scope and all done in the open.

We read those background comments from the Obama camp as undercutting frenzied efforts by activists like the Association for Justice and ProPublica to delegitimize the substance of Bush rulemaking  through a process attack against  “Midnight Regulations.”

In the end, if the Obama Administration challenges established rules, it will do so through the standard regulatory process based on the substance — not the process — of those rules. We’ll applaud or criticize those decisions based on the substance.

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