Today marks the 20th anniversary of a little-known but remarkably important document: Executive Order 12866, issued by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Executive Order 12866 replaced an order issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Both of these documents set out a process whereby the White House – acting through the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – would review major agency rules before they were issued.
Executive Order 12866, and the Reagan order before it, ushered in a new era in administrative law, one in which the White House would become the dominant force in administrative rulemaking and in which cost-benefit analysis would become the overarching framework for evaluating the wisdom of rules. Professional career staff in the agencies, steeped in the technical fields relevant to the agencies’ work, would see their work product changed, sometimes dramatically, by professional career staff in OIRA. Political management at the agencies would find their actions scrutinized, revised, and sometimes stopped altogether by political operatives at the White House.
Even where statutes (as most do) charged a particular agency with making a particular technical finding and set forth a decision-making framework other than cost-benefit analysis, the White House process of regulatory review displaced those agency decision makers and supplanted the statutory standard with a cost-benefit test. The executive orders under both Reagan and Clinton qualified their reach by stating that they were to be applied “to the extent permitted by law,” but administrative law developments in the Supreme Court subsequent to the Reagan executive order – in particular, the famous Chevron decision – give tremendous leeway to agencies in interpreting the statutes they administer, and OIRA has taken upon itself to instruct agencies how to interpret these laws. Thus the constraint of following existing law is more illusory than real.
by Peter M. Shane, the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University. This post first appeared onShane Reactions.
Not being a psychiatrist, I don’t really understand why the President’s fairly modest efforts at gun policy reform seem to have utterly deranged some of his political opponents. But talk of impeachment in connection with his gun-related “executive orders” is, to put it mildly, ridiculous.
To put matters in context, it helps to understand “executive orders.” These are presidential directives – sometimes formally called “executive orders,” sometimes not – that are issued to help manage the federal government. There is no authoritative definition of “executive orders” that distinguishes them from “presidential memorandums,” “presidential proclamations,” or – as in the case of the George W. Bush first directive on military commissions – just “orders.” The Federal Register Act lumps them together with “presidential proclamations” as documents that, with some exceptions, must be made public.
Although some news outlets reported that President Obama signed 23 executive orders relating to gun violence in America, he actually signed only three. Although they were called, “Presidential Memorandums,” two, at least, were indistinguishable from run-of-the-mill executive orders in that they applied to the heads of all executive departments and agencies. The other, addressed to a single agency, takes a form that would typically be called a “memorandum.”
Executive orders, like any other form of presidential initiative, must be rooted in some form of legal authority. Some are issued in the President’s constitutional chief executive capacity, and set forth managerial requirements for specified federal operations. Some are issued pursuant to explicit authority delegated to the President by statute, or are issued as a way of complying with obligations Congress has imposed on the President or the executive branch more generally.
After the last of the applause lines has been delivered, and while the crowd that gathered for his historic second inauguration is still filing out of town, President Obama will once again sit at his desk in the Oval Office and begin the tough policy work that will define his second term in office and shape the legacy he will leave behind.
Among the many challenges he'll face over the next four years will be an urgent agenda of addressing critical threats to public health, safety, and the environment that the Administration let languish during the first term. But good luck to him if he decides to attack the problems with legislation. The election made the numbers in both chambers of Congress somewhat more favorable to the President's cause. But it'd take an earth-shattering event or at least another election to get protective legislation out of the House of Representatives, which vacillates between being sullen and defiant and will undoubtedly return to its anti-regulatory drum-beating as soon as the fiscal “crisis” is over.
So what's a President to do? Use every bit of executive power he can marshal, in this case, by directing the regulatory agencies to move with dispatch to regulate and enforce in a number of vital areas. In Protecting People and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen: Seven New Executive Orders for President Obama’s Second Term, released today, my colleagues and I at the Center for Progressive Reform explain how the President can take the first vital step by making full use of his authority to manage executive agencies -- including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- by issuing a series of Executive Orders.