What did OMB have to do with the oil spill?
A scathing series of presidentially-mandated reports about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill blames the Office of Management and Budget for denying a request by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to release "worst-case discharge figures" before the full extent of the oil spill was known.
But some might scratch their head (or raise their Eye-brows) asking, What did OMB have to do with the oil spill?
Remember that the agency serves as the government's clearinghouse for major policy decisions, public statements in support or opposition to legislation and the release of government information.
To quote from its mission statement, OMB coordinates and reviews "all significant federal regulations by executive agencies, to reflect Presidential priorities and to ensure that economic and other impacts are assessed as part of regulatory decision-making, along with review and assessment of information collection requests."
In other words, NOAA's decision to release oil spill estimates -- a potentially sensitive bit of information -- was right up OMB's alley.
"This is not a surprising role for OMB," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch which -- wait for it -- watches OMB. The agency's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, for example, tracks proposed changes to federal regulations and adds its input based on the president's policies and priorities, Bass said.
"If OMB censored NOAA by refusing to let the agency release its worst-case estimate -- well, that would be extremely troubling," Bass said. "It would be reminiscent of the Bush II administration which often put politics above science. We have not seen that pattern during the Obama administration."
Indeed OMB officials stressed Wednesday that they didn't interfere with or delay the release of NOAA's estimates -- but merely provided input for the agency to consider before releasing the information, as expected. The oil spill commission never contacted OMB about its investigations, agency officials said.
This is a reminder, by the way, why the Obama administration and lawmakers -- of both parties -- are upset with Sen. Mary Landrieu's decision to hold up Jack Lew's nomination to serve as OMB director. Every agency needs permanent leadership in place and several policy decisions, announcements or reviews similar to NOAA's request last Spring are being held up at OMB in Lew's absence.
In the words of a senior OMB official, "We have 500 people on board, doing their jobs. We're cruising at a certain altitude -- but we need a new director to really soar to new heights."
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| October 7, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories: Administration, Nuts and Bolts
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