Regs, not policy, may drive new leader at OIRA

Office of Management and Budget

President Bush's nominee to take over one of the top posts in federal information policy has little experience in the policy arena and much to learn if he is to be effective, experts say.

The Bush administration last week named John Graham to be director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. As head of OIRA, Graham would oversee federal regulations and information requirements, and would develop and implement policies to better manage government information.

Graham is a professor of policy and decision sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health and founding director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Graham's office said March 9 that he could not comment until his Senate confirmation hearing.

Graham has plenty of experience in the regulatory arena but little in information policy issues, according to observers. That poses a challenge for someone entering a position with so many responsibilities, said John Spotila, the last director of OIRA and now chief operating officer at GTSI Corp.

"OIRA has a broad portfolio, including information technology and statistical policy, and he's going to have to get up to speed on these issues," Spotila said. "He seems like a very good choice, particularly in the regulatory area. But OIRA's not just regulations."

In fact, OIRA's mandate has little to do with regulations, said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a government watchdog organization. When Congress created the office in 1980 as part of the Paperwork Reduction Act, its purpose was simply to help agencies reduce the load of paperwork going out to citizens.

Amendments to the act have refined that mandate to direct agencies to use electronic means to reduce the paperwork burden, and OIRA has expanded its role to leading all information management, including implementing the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998, which requires agencies to offer citizens the choice to interact electronically, whenever possible, by October 2003.

Although Graham would be able to learn the information policy side, Bass said, the fact that the administration has chosen a leader with extensive experience in only one part of the office's responsibilities "is a strong message that the new OIRA administrator will be focused almost entirely on the regulatory aspect of government, not the information policy," Bass said.

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