Transparency Bill Could Expose More Obama-Era Rules to Repeal

By Gehrke, Joel | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, January 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

Transparency Bill Could Expose More Obama-Era Rules to Repeal


Gehrke, Joel, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


A new proposal to bring transparency to the executive branch could further erode former President Barack Obama's regulatory legacy.

Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wants to require federal agencies to publish regulatory guidance online in an accessible place. The guidance refers to the bureaucratic commentary that clarifies national regulations.

As a stand-alone measure, his legislation could help individuals and institutions of all stripes navigate the "tens of thousands" of documents that shape government policy. But the information could also give lawmakers a new opening to reverse provisions that they dislike.

"You [can't] find where the guidances were, and there was no requirement to post them in any organized fashion or necessarily to post them at all," Johnson told the Washington Examiner.

That will change if Johnson's Guidance Out Of Darkness bill passes Congress and receives a presidential signature. The bill would give agencies 60 days to post all the guidance issued from the previous 10 years in a single location on their websites. Any changes to the guidance would be documented; readers could see the old documents and know when the new guidance emerged.

"That's really part of the problem. Are you really a nation of laws when you have so many laws, so many rules, so many regulations, so many guidances that people don't have a clue?" Johnson said. "And they're really enforced at the discretion of agencies and law enforcement?"

Johnson says it's a pertinent question, given how something that ought to be as anodyne as regulatory guidance can change national policy. In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development used a guidance memo to announce that it is discriminatory for landlords to deny a rental application because the prospective tenant has a criminal record. A letter from the Department of Education brought sweeping changes to how universities around the country investigate campus sexual assault allegations. It was one of many changes, as the department issued new guidance "at a rate of more than one document per work day," according to a Senate Republican report. …

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