House Republicans want to change the way agencies make rules

House Republicans want to increase transparency in the process federal agencies use to make rules. But their Democratic colleagues say it would have the opposite effect, decreasing the amount of information agencies release to the public.

H.R. 5226 would require an agency to publish online every public communication it makes regarding a proposed rule, along with the date, method and intended audience of the communication. The bill defines “public communication” to mean “any method (including written, oral, or electronic) of disseminating information to the public, including an agency statement (written or verbal), blog, video, audio recording, or other social media message.”

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) used the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States as an example of agency communication lacking transparency.

“The agency used social media to undermine the purpose and spirit of the rulemaking process by condensing a complex, costly and controversial proposed rule down to a misleading talking point,” Walberg said, during a May 17 markup hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 17. “By asking for support before the rule was finalized, it was clear that EPA had already prejudged the outcome of its rulemaking.”

However, Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) disagreed, calling the requirements of the bill “unnecessarily burdensome” and saying that they would actually reduce the amount of information agencies share with the public.

“It’s hard to believe that an agency could say anything about a pending rule that would not be considered promoting a rule,” Cummings said. “I think we can all agree that an agency should only propose rules that they believe will be beneficial. An agency therefore should be able to communicate why such a rule is beneficial.”

The bill was reported favorably by the committee in a vote split down party lines.

The committee also favorably reported S. 1550, which aims to improve efficiency in government by bolstering program and project management. It would establish a Program Management Policy Council, led by the deputy director for management of the Office of Management and Budget. The council would research, establish and review guidelines, standards and best practices for program and project management.

In addition, agencies required to have chief financial officers would have to create a program management improvement Officer to develop strategies and implement policies.

Introducing the bill, chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that there are challenges to improving program and project management in the federal government. It’s not easily improved by legislation, and not treated as seriously as in the private sector.

“Effective program and project managers are both the first line of defense against waste, fraud and abuse throughout the government, and the best positioned employees to increase efficiency as we move forward,” Chaffetz said.

The committee also considered H.R. 5199, which would reform federal construction procurement to lower the barriers to entry for small firms and reduce the workload of federal contracting personnel.

Currently, construction contracts require a detailed bid, which has a median cost of $260,000 according to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). That steep cost can dissuade smaller firms from entering a bid, especially when 20 other firms are in the running.

The bill would create a two-stage process for construction procurement contracts worth more than $3 million. During the first stage, procurement officials would consider only the history and qualifications of companies seeking the contract, and narrow the field to a few. Those few would then be invited to submit a detailed bid.

The idea is that small firms would be more likely to risk submitting detailed bids with a 20 percent chance of getting a contract versus a 5 percent or lower chance. Similarly, procurement officials would spend less time reviewing the bids.

The bill was reported favorably with a unanimous vote.

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