TOOLBOX: Reginfo.gov Offers Beat Reporters a Powerful Mischief Detector

August 13, 2008

Reporters trying to track the machinations of EPA, the Interior Department, OSHA, or some other government agencies may find a powerful tool online — the often overlooked RegInfo.gov.

It's a searchable database containing most of the federal regulatory actions in progress — a compilation of the "regulatory agendas" of more than 60 federal agencies. Although the "Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan" is ruled with an iron hand by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the database itself is run on a technical level by the General Services Administration.

You can use it to get a quick, user-friendly overview of all regulatory actions pending at whatever agencies you are interested in. It also contains links to other main tools for covering regulatory activity, such as the Federal Register and the rulemaking docket, Regulations.gov.

One of the handiest features is a search that lets you see what proposed rules are at OMB for review, being tinkered with out of the public limelight.

If you find something there that interests you, don't neglect to visit OMB's site to check disclosure of meetings by OMB officials with special interest groups. Sorry — OMB only discloses the fact of its meetings with special interests. It does not tell taxpayers, voters, or the media just what OMB officials might have said to White House campaign contributors (visit OpenSecrets.org) ... or environmental groups. That's where the reporting comes in.

Is RegInfo.gov worthwhile? SEJ member Celeste Monforton was idly browsing RegInfo.gov when she discovered the secret OSHA risk assessment rule (see previous story) that sparked a page one Washington Post story, two Congressional investigations, and a New York Times editorial.