For Immediate Release: Jan 09, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
The Public’s Reform Suggestions to OMB Remain Cloaked
OMB Claimed “100,000+” Submissions but Won’t Say What They Recommend
Washington, DC — This spring, the Trump White House loudly called for public input on how to fix the federal government but is unwilling to divulge the feedback it received, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The White House has bragged about the volume and scope of responses it generated, but all signs of the effort have since vanished from the web.
On March 13, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order telling the Director of his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop a plan recommending ways to reorganize the executive branch and eliminate any unnecessary programs within government agencies. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney unveiled a web portal and posted a video of himself soliciting suggestions from the public.
After the end of the comment period, the OMB website declared that the public “submitted more than 100,000+ suggestions and ideas to eliminate burdensome regulations, remove red tape and get government out of the way of government.” Thereafter, all reference to the effort was deleted from the OMB site.
On July 10th, PEER sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to OMB seeking records reflecting what areas the public suggestions covered, how OMB analyzed the ideas, and what if any follow-up the agency took or planned. After several months, during which OMB would not even provide a schedule for a response, PEER filed a FOIA lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“Was the White House call for public involvement just a stunt?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “After the suggestions were counted did anyone bother reading them?”
In this hyper-business friendly administration, PEER is probing whether OMB used public comments as a cover for adopting advice directly from commercial interests who would thereby profit. PEER points, for example, to the Environmental Protection Agency this spring convening a more than 100-member Task Force to extensively revise its Superfund program. Within weeks, that Task Force produced a detailed set of recommendations favorable to developers and polluting industries without any prior drafts, minutes, presentations, or any other paper trail whatsoever.
The mystery at OMB is deepened in that after asking for comments the agency has disclosed no schedule or process for next steps. At the same time, OMB’s website has been stripped of information about this public outreach effort and its entire website has been reduced to little more than a page.
“Taco Bell’s website displays much more information than the Office of Management and Budget’s site now contains,” added Ruch. “In the Trump administration, the people’s business is conducted as if by a privately-held corporation.”