OIRA Actually Makes Searching for Secret Meetings Easier

April 16, 2014

The meetings are still secret.

For years, under multiple administrations, White House officials have subverted open government by holding illegal "ex parte" meetings with special interests affected by agency rulemakings. The Administrative Procedures Act requires agency rulemakings to be based only upon on-the-record evidence and testimony. But the White House Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has met in private with industry and environmental groups and then dictated regulations to the agencies.

The industry lobbies meeting with White House regulators were often big contributors to presidential campaigns. The situation was so bad that President Clinton tried to reform it — by issuing an executive order (EO 12866) requiring OMB to disclose meetings and phone calls on regulations. OMB does disclose the fact of the meetings online — who attended and the general subject — but the details of what was said remain undisclosed.

Nonetheless, the fact that White House officials heard industry pleas just days before ordering the weakening of agency regulations has often been telling. The online database of meetings and calls has been a great resource for investigative journalists — and maybe that is why OMB has made it so hard to use.

Now OMB — which is supposed to be improving government with open data — has actually taken a step toward doing its job by rolling out some improvements in the EO 12866 Meetings Database. They have made it searchable by agency, sub-agency, date range, stage of rulemaking, and regulatory identifier. They have also made it possible to browse day-by-day.

But — April Fools! — you can only search for meetings that happened AFTER April 1, 2014. Any meetings where you might suspect corrupt things happened BEFORE that date are still just as hard to find information about.