House Probes OMB Suppression of Chemical Risk Assessments

June 18, 2008

The House Science Committee is investigating charges that a White House political arm with no scientific expertise is suppressing EPA information about the toxic risks of commercial products.

Many of the industries whose products are insulated from consumer scrutiny by the White House actions have been heavy contributors to the campaigns of President Bush and Congressional Republicans. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has for decades been accused of functioning as a secret back-channel for industry lobbyists to exert illegal influence over regulatory proceedings at EPA and other agencies.

The Administrative Procedure Act requires agencies to do rulemaking with notice and comment, in open meetings, and in most cases to base rules solely on a publicly available record of evidence and testimony. Under its own set of rules, OMB prevents agency rules from going final before it has approved them. Officials in OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs often meet with interest groups, but are not required to disclose details of those meetings.

At issue is the EPA database called IRIS (Integrated Risk Information System), a searchable compilation of human health studies on hundreds of chemicals used in industry and commerce. IRIS is not a regulatory activity per se, but information in the database is used in many regulatory decisions.

The Senate Environment Committee held hearings on the IRIS matter April 29, 2008. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that OMB reviews are creating long delays in getting information about human health effects into the IRIS database.