For Immediate Release: May 03, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
OMB Ditches the Public’s Government Reform Suggestions
OMB Admits It Did Not Review Massive Public Input on How to “Fix” Government
Washington, DC — A much-ballyhooed Trump initiative to involve the public in designing government reforms appears to have been a hoax, according to a document produced in a lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). After soliciting public input on ways to streamline executive branch operations, the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) now admits it did not utilize, analyze, or even compile what it claims were thousands of ideas submitted to it by citizens.
On March 13, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order charging the OMB Director with developing ways to reorganize the executive branch and eliminate unnecessary programs. Part of that order directed OMB to invite “the public to suggest improvements” and to “consider the suggestions when formulating the proposed plan.” Director Mick Mulvaney even posted a video solicitation on the OMB website where he urged the public to “give us your ideas” because “we need your help to fix” red tape.
That public suggestion period ended on June 12, 2017 and the OMB website then declared the public “submitted more than 100,000+ suggestions and ideas to eliminate burdensome regulations, remove red tape and get government out of the way of government.” Thereafter, however, all reference to the effort disappeared from the OMB site. On July 10, PEER sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to OMB seeking records reflecting what this call for public input produced, including –
- What areas the public suggestions covered;
- How OMB analyzed the ideas; and
- What if any follow-up the agency took or planned.
For several months, OMB provided no response nor offered any schedule for a response. Consequently, on January 9, 2018, PEER filed a FOIA lawsuit in U.S. District Court to compel production. In response to the suit, OMB in a letter dated April 30, 2018 to PEER stated that:
“OMB conducted a search of its files for documents that are responsive to the request and no responsive records were located.”
“How could they not locate 100,000 comments?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The White House call for public involvement in reforming government seems to have been merely a cynical stunt.”
In contrast to the treatment accorded public input, industry lobbyists appear to have no trouble influencing Trump administration plans, especially in departments such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We will likely never know if the public registered strong preferences supporting or exactly opposite what the Trump team has done,” added Ruch. “Perhaps OMB reclassified the mounds of public suggestions as carbon-neutral biofuel and burned them.”