‘The most significant action Biden took on day one’: This Exec Order is an under-reported game-changer

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What was President Biden’s most important act on day one in the White House?

Was it ending the Muslim travel ban, halting work on the Mexican Wall, or putting the U.S. back in the Paris agreement? To most Americans, the most important act was unlikely to be a memo on regulation called “Modernizing Regulatory Review.”

Think again.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is an obscure and cryptic bureau in the White House. Tucked away deep within the equally unexciting Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Americans would be forgiven for not having heard of the OIRA — until Biden’s little known but critical memorandum.

The Biden order everyone should be talking about

The dark stains of the Trump era may take some scrubbing to remove, but President Biden has already rolled up his proverbial shirtsleeves and gotten to work. On his first day in office, Biden signed a flurry of executive orders, swiftly undoing his predecessor’s legacy. Media outlets rushed to announce the policy changes to immigration and climate change.

Meanwhile, there was a memo with a dry and unmemorable title hidden among the list. “Modernizing Regulatory Review” was sent to the press at 9:43 p.m. EST on Wednesday, according to HuffPost, with little reaction from the press. As the inauguration dust continues to settle, this seemingly mundane document has taken on a new shine.

‘The most significant action Biden took on day one’

James Goodwin is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform. His take on the new memorandum should be heeded. “I realize what I’m about to say to you sounds absurd. It has the potential to be the most significant action Biden took on day one,” he said, according to HuffPost.

What is so important about this action?

Americans will remember four years of Trump for many reasons, one of which was his aversion to science.  What’s more, The Trump administration also dedicated itself to deregulation with unprecedented zeal. It rolled back hundreds of regulations across government agencies, including the slashing of over 80 environmental rules.

Biden could be reversing 40 years of conservative policy

Instead of rolling back regulations, the ‘Modernizing Regulatory Review’ memorandum could release a flood of even stricter rules on combatting climate change, improving public health, and reducing income inequality. Policy analysts see the memo as a harbinger of change: Biden may be able to reverse 40 years of conservative policy.

If successful, the order could forever change the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The OIRA is highly influential and can delay or entirely quash new rules brought by other government agencies. In his conservative boom days, Ronald Reagan gave the little-known agency near unfettered powers. Critics have slammed the OIRA for having a narrow economic outlook that ignores the social and environmental benefits that do not immediately translate into profit.

For many years, the OIRA has operated as a quasi bodyguard against regulations that affect corporate interests. Lobbyists would look to the agency to block rules that would protect workers or consumers at a cost.

Easier to count profits than measure lives saved

Stuart Shapiro is a professor of Public Policy at Rutgers University. He used the example of mercury pollution to make this point. Using a hypothetical EPA rule that would limit mercury pollution, Shapiro noted how much easier it is to calculate the cost of such a regulation to business than to measure the benefit to society. The lives that could be saved, illnesses prevented, or the childhoods improved — these are harder to put into numbers.

Biden’s order calls for the OIRA director to encourage agencies to create regulations that benefit the public, according to the White House. The president says regulatory reviews should further “public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.”

Regulations to protect the public are “vital”

The President has yet to nominate the head of the OIRA, although he has picked Sharon Block to serve as the agency’s associate administrator and current top official. Block is an ardent ally of labor unions and has called for a restructuring of the OIRA in a way that benefits workers, “especially workers of color who were disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.”

In the White House briefing, Biden speaks of the challenges facing the nation: “a massive global pandemic; a major economic downturn; systemic racial inequality; and the undeniable reality and accelerating threat of climate change.” The president acknowledges that to guarantee federal action, “Regulations that promote the public interest are vital.”

A reformed OIRA could be a critical cog in the wheel with which Biden is rolling America to a new future.

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