Federal agencies are giving a broad reading to the regulatory freeze President Donald Trump ordered last week, with some yanking official notices of outreach meetings and even routine renewals of forms used by the federal government.
The most immediate impact of the order issued by new White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus can be seen at an obscure unit of the National Archives, the Office of the Federal Register. All day Monday and Tuesday notices were arriving by email and messenger asking that regulations and a variety of other announcements set for official publication be immediately pulled from the queue.
As of Tuesday night, a total of 62 items that were due to be published in the coming days were listed as withdrawn at the agencies’ request. However, the total number of notices pulled from the process seems to be substantially higher. One letter from the Environmental Protection Agency lists 32 regulatory actions being withdrawn.
Some of the matters are weighty, like planned cancellation of sanctions against Burma (now on hold) or rules to give military spouses preferences in federal hiring. Some have already drawn public attention, like a delay in new rules about mistreatment of horses. Other actions suspended by the White House move seem less than earth-shattering, like the planned campground fee for public land in Richland County, North Dakota.
However, at least a few of the halts seem troubling, like the withdrawal of a rule about inspecting aircraft fuselages for cracks.
Priebus’ order does allow for exceptions for “emergency situations or other urgent circumstances relating to health, safety, financial, or national security matters, or otherwise.” However, it’s not clear precisely what that means, so many agencies seem to be erring on the side of pulling everything pending at the Federal Register.
“USDA has provided direction for Forest Service to withdraw all documents submitted to the Federal Register for publication,” Forest Service official Edwina Howard-Agu wrote in a letter Tuesday inspected by POLITICO.
The Forest Service withdrew meeting notices that don’t appear to have anything to do with regulations, like planned sessions of the Sitka/Tenakee Springs/Port Alexander Resource Advisory Committee and the Lake Tahoe Basin Federal Advisory Committee.
Letters withdrawing the various rules and notices vary in terms of the explanations for the actions. When the Department of Housing and Urban Development pulled rules intended to streamline income tests for federally-subsidized housing, it said: “This request is consistent with the memorandum dated January 20 2017, from the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff.” EPA’s letter also directly references Priebus’ directive.
The Transportation Department resorted to more vague language, saying: “We are withdrawing all…of these documents for further legal and policy review.”
Many of the rules and notices are expected to get moving again after Trump appointees have a chance to review them, but some will likely be held up for a protracted period and may be scuttled completely. Actions by independent agencies don’t appear to be affected by the freeze.
The freeze also includes a delay of 60 days or more in the effective date of regulations the Obama administration managed to get out the door in recent months, but which have not yet taken effect.