Federal Rulemaking:

Perspectives on 10 Years of Congressional Review Act Implementation

GAO-06-601T: Published: Mar 30, 2006. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 2006.

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J. Christopher Mihm
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This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Congressional oversight of rulemaking using the CRA can be an important and useful tool for monitoring the regulatory process and balancing and accommodating the concerns of American citizens and businesses with the effects of federal agencies' rules. This statement provides an overview of the purpose and provisions of CRA; GAO's role and activities in fulfilling its responsibilities under the Act; and trends on CRA within the broader context of developments in presidential and congressional oversight of federal agencies' rulemaking.

CRA gives Congress an opportunity to review most rules before they take effect and to disapprove those found to be too burdensome, excessive, inappropriate, duplicative, or otherwise objectionable. Under CRA, two types of rules, major and nonmajor, must be submitted to both Houses of Congress and GAO before they can take effect. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget specifies which rules are designated as major rules based on criteria set out in the CRA. Major rules cannot be effective until 60 days after publication in the Federal Register or submission to Congress and GAO, whichever is later. Congress may disapprove agencies' rules by introducing a resolution of disapproval that, if adopted by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President, can nullify an agency's rule. Members of Congress seldom have attempted to use this process. GAO's role under CRA is to provide Congress with a report on each major rule concerning GAO's assessment of the promulgating federal agency's compliance with the procedural steps required by various acts and executive orders governing the regulatory process. GAO compiles information on the rules it receives under CRA in a database containing basic information about major and nonmajor rules. GAO also conducts an annual review to determine whether all final rules covered by the Act and published in the Federal Register have been filed with the Congress and GAO. Although we reported that agencies' compliance with CRA requirements was inconsistent during the first years after CRA's enactment, compliance improved over time. There have been a limited number of CRA joint resolutions, but the benefits of compiling and making information available on potential federal actions should not be underestimated. The procedures for congressional disapproval also may have some deterrent effect. Efforts to enhance presidential oversight of agencies' rulemaking appear to have been more significant and widely employed in recent years than similar efforts to enhance congressional oversight. Some recent legislative proposals have focused on expanding the information and analysis available to Congress on pending rules, while others focus on enhancing the mechanisms that Congress could employ for its own review--and potential disapproval--of agencies' rules.

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