White House acting regulations director to depart

By Kelsey Brugger | 01/28/2022 01:16 PM EST

Sharon Block.

Sharon Block on Capitol Hill in 2014. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

Sharon Block, President Biden’s regulations director, is the latest White House official to announce their departure.

A veteran labor policy expert and former Harvard law professor, Block is leaving the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the White House confirmed this morning. She has been leading the office in an acting capacity since early in the administration.

“Under Sharon’s leadership, OIRA has played a crucial role in advancing the president’s agenda — from powering our historic economic recovery and combating the pandemic, to tackling the climate crisis and advancing equity,” said Shalanda Young, acting Office of Management and Budget director.

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“From day one, Sharon’s breadth of experience and wide-ranging expertise have been invaluable to OMB and the Biden administration, and we are grateful for her dedicated leadership and willingness to serve at this critical moment in our country’s history,” said Young, whom the president nominated last year to continue leading OMB.

OIRA is a powerful White House office playing a key role in shaping Biden’s climate and the environmental agenda. Desk officers review and coordinate with the agency officials on hundreds of federal rulemakings and guidance documents, as well as other government correspondence.

Block’s appointment as acting administrator was welcomed by progressives, who have long lobbied the federal government to take a more aggressive approach to rulemaking, including giving more weight to marginalized communities and less to corporate interests.

But Biden has failed to nominate anyone to lead OIRA for the long term, raising concern among reformers, who have also wondered what happened to the president’s early commitment to modernize the regulatory process (Greenwire, Jan. 21, 2021).

Block signaled in a blog post last June that her office was using “every tool available to meet the challenges of the moment and support a robust and equitable economic recovery.” But the public details remain fuzzy.

Progressives, who have become used to OIRA as a place where rules get watered down, have been encouraged by some of the office’s actions. For example, documents show that OIRA pushed EPA to strengthen its clean car rule (Climatewire, Jan. 13).

“There have been some indications that Sharon has even brought something of a culture change to OIRA,” said James Goodwin, a policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform.

But he noted there have been “a smattering of lengthy reviews for rules in the environmental sphere, most notably some of the energy efficiency standards from the Department of Energy.”

Adam White, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said it’s hard to judge Block’s first year, given that little is known about it. He said observers will judge OIRA based on rules pending this year.

Goodwin agreed. “We’re now heading into a tough election year,” he said, “and regulations are likely to be one of the big fights going forward.”

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