Friday, October 16, 2009

Despite Obama's Restrictions, Lobbyists Still Have Plenty Of Access

When the economic stimulus legislation passed, President Obama made a big show of restricting the federal officials charged with distributing the $787 billion from accepting meetings, e-mails, documents or phone calls from lobbyists from businesses seeking to share in the grants and contracts stemming from the huge appropriations. So, the front door of the administration was shut tight on K Street. However, as many industry groups have managed to discover, there's a wide open back door, and they are making good use of it.

Every rule coming out of the federal bureaucracy has to be vetted by the Office of Management and Budget for a review of its impact not only on government budgets but also on the parties to be regulated by the rule. The OMB office charged with this task is called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA. OIRA keeps meticulous records of who sits in on meetings to review each proposed rule. Regulations require OIRA to meet with anyone who asks, from a business or organization likely to be regulated under a proposed rule.

One of the rules drawing a lot of back door lobbying was the stimulus legislation's mandate that domestic industries be favored in government construction contracts funded with stimulus cash, called the "Buy American" provision. In March and April OIRA hoisted three meetings with more than 20 people to discuss the Defense Acquisitions Regulations Council proposed buy American rule, including six lobbyists from the United Steelworkers Union, the United Autoworkers Union, and the American Steel and Iron Institute. The Japanese Embassy (Japan makes steel, too) also attended one of these meetings. So much for closing the door on lobbyists.

A second proposed rule, on the renewable fuel standard provisions on calculating greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol production, attracted more than 40 people to four meetings in March, including lobbyists representing Shell Oil, the American Petroleum Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The biggest lobbyist draw of all so far was the EPA proposed rule on industry reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, which attracted over 50 folks to six meetings last month, including lobbyists for Chevron, BP America, Exxon, Mobil, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute, and the American Paper and Forest Association. Seems like government always has a back door.
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