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Watchdog calls White House meeting records suspicious

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The records of interactions between the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and special-interest groups are suspiciously sparse, the Center for Effective Government said Feb. 26.

To lend transparency to meetings between industry representatives and the White House office that oversees regulations, President Clinton issued an executive order in 1993 to require the OIRA to maintain a public log of its meetings and communications. The Center for Effective Government, a watchdog group, analyzed OIRA records for three agencies and found what it said is an implausibly small number of written comments and records of phone conversations.

The group found that the OIRA had made records available for 647 meetings since October 2001 involving those three agencies--the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. In that same period, the OIRA released 28 written comments and nine phone calls from outside groups.

"While one does not expect an equal number of meetings, comments, and phone calls for every topic, discrepancies this large are suspicious," the analysis said.

In late 2009 and early 2010, the OIRA met with EPA officials and outside representatives on the topic of coal combustion dozens of times, but the Center for Effective Government found no records of written comments or other communication. "Such a scenario implies that not one person who came to any of those 43 meetings brought talking points for OIRA staff or followed up with an e-mail or phone call," the watchdog group said.

Records of meetings with the EPA jumped from 40 in 2002 to 116 in 2012. That may mean disclosure has improved or that the meetings have become more frequent. The analysis says that industry representatives may have requested more meetings with the Obama administration than with the George W. Bush administration because the latter was more "industry-sympathetic" in its regulatory decisions.

For more:
- read the analysis, "Disclosure at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: Written Comments and Telephone Records Suspiciously Absent"

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