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Small Businesses, Public Health, and Scientific Integrity

January 29, 2013

This report examines the activities of an independent office within the Small Business Administration: the Office of Advocacy. The Office of Advocacy has responsibility for ensuring that federal agencies evaluate the small business impacts of the rules they adopt. Scientific assessments are not "rules" and do not regulate small business, yet the Office of Advocacy decided to comment on technical, scientific assessments of the cancer risks of formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium. By its own admission, Advocacy lacks the scientific expertise to evaluate the merits of such assessments.The report analyzes correspondence and materials received through a Freedom of Information Act request made by staff at the Center for Effective Government. Our inquiry was driven by two questions: Why did the Office of Advocacy get involved in the debate over scientific assessments that do not regulate small business? Whose interests does the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration actually serve?We found that the Office of Advocacy's comments on these assessments raised no issues of specific concern to small business and relied almost exclusively on talking points provided by trade associations dominated by big chemical companies. Between 2005 and 2012, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its members spent over $333 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies on, among other things, a protracted campaign to prevent government agencies from designating formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium as carcinogens. The Formaldehyde Council, Styrene Industry Research Council, and Chrome Coalition spent millions more. These groups asked the Office of Advocacy for assistance, and the Office became their willing partner.We conclude that the Office of Advocacy's decision to comment on scientific assessments of the cancer risks of certain chemicals constitutes a significant and unwarranted expansion of its role and reach beyond its statutory responsibilities. We recommend that Congress ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the Office of Advocacy and exert morerigorous oversight of its activities to ensure its work does not undermine the efforts of other federal agencies to fulfill the goals Congress has assigned them.

The Regulatory Tsunami That Wasn’t

September 2, 2012

Since the midterm elections, business has been complaining that the Obama administration is pushing a "tsunami" of new regulations. This charge has been repeated by some lawmakers on Capitol Hill as a justification for their efforts to roll back, delay, and even block improved standards and safeguards. It is a theme of the 2012 presidential election, as the two main political parties have very different points of view. But what is the reality? Has the Obama administration adopted more regulations than its predecessors?This report shows that there is little difference between the Obama administration and past administrations in their overall level of regulatory activity. There has been an increase in the number of significant rules during the Obama administration, but that has been driven by the statutory and judicial deadlines the Obama administration faced and by regulatory actions left uncompleted by prior administrations. The number of pending regulations leading into this election year is remarkably similar to comparable time periods under past administrations and does not provide any evidence of plans for an avalanche of regulations to come.As we engage in a national debate about the role that government can and should play in establishing standards that protect us and our quality of life from unnecessary risks, it's important to work from the facts and a full understanding of the rulemaking process.