OSHA rulemaking activity in the year before a Presidential Election

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the number of major regulatory actions taken by OSHA during the Presidential election years 1984 to 2012. I was exploring the popular notion that OSHA's regulatory activities always slow down during a Presidential election year.  I learned that the number of final rules, proposed rules, and advanced notices of proposed rules issued by OSHA slowed substantially over the last 28 years, but I needed more data to discern whether the number of these actions actually slowed during Presidential election years.   The chart below provides that data.

In five of the eight most recent Presidential election years, the number of proposed and final rules issued by OSHA declined when compared to the previous year.  This include a decline of 71 percent in OSHA rules proposed or finalized in 2008 compared to 2007 (i.e., from 7 rules to 2 rules) and a decline of 53 percent in 1984 compared to 1983 (i.e., from 19 rules to 9 rules.)  The exceptions occurred during the second Reagan term, the George H.W. Bush Administration, and the first Clinton term, when the number of proposed and final OSHA rules increased from 3 in 1995 to 7 in the Presidential election year 1996.

This collection of data tells me that since 2000, the number of regulations proposed and finalized by OSHA does decline in the Presidential election year compared to the year preceding it.  At least in recent times, the popular notion that OSHA's regulatory activities slow down during a Presidential election year holds true.  Whether those are intentional policy decisions, and if so whether that serves well workers at risk of serious occupational hazards, is a different matter.

In this document, you can see a list of the proposed and final rules included in my table.  They include significant worker safety regulations like the final rule on hazard communication issued in 1987 and the final rule on bloodborne pathogens issued in 1991.  It also includes more modest regulatory actions like updating certain OSHA safety standards to conform with national consensus standards.

I received a number of inquiries following my August 28 post about regulations issued in the post-Presidential election period (November through January 20.)  Here's what the data tells us about new OSHA regulations issued by an outgoing Administration:

Before the George H.W. Bush Administration took office, the Regan Administration issued the following final rule:

  • on 1/19/1989 on air contaminants (54:2332-2983)

Before the Clinton Administration took office, the George H.W. Bush Administration issued the following final rule:

  • on 1/14/1993 involving safety standards for permit-required confined spaces (58:4462)

Before the George W. Bush Administration took office, the Clinton Administration issued the following final rules:

  • on 1/18/2001 involving safety standards for steel erection (66:5317-5325)
  • on 1/18/2001, pursuant to a congressional deadline, involving new requirements to prevent needlestick and other sharps injuries (66:5317-5325)
  • on 1/19/2001 on injury and illness recording and reporting requirements (66:5916-6135)

 Before the Obama Administration took office, the George W. Bush Administration issued the following final rules:

  • on 12/10/2008 for vertical tandem lifts used in longshoring and at marine terminals (73:75245-75290)
  • on 12/12/2008 to clarify employers' duty to provide PPE and training (73:75568-75589)

Despite their publication dates in an Administration's waning days, none of these rules were cobbled together at the last minute.  They all were subject to the same level of scrutiny during OSHA's public comment and hearing process, as well as inter-agency and OMB review.  It just seems that Administration's can kick it into high gear when it comes to regulatory action when their legacy is on the line.

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