How a small White House agency stalls life-saving regulations

The little-known Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs can delay, rewrite or kill rules mandated by Congress, and as the case of requiring rearview cameras on cars shows, it often uses that power.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – But for a small, little-known White House agency, Melissa Helcher might not have killed Clark Biddle in a Columbus, Ohio, parking lot on a cold February day this year.

The 24-year-old Helcher had just eaten lunch with her two children at an O’Charley’s restaurant and was backing her 2012 Ford Fusion sedan out of a tight space. Biddle and his wife, Betty, both 88 and a couple since ninth grade, were making their way across the lot toward a high-school reunion lunch.

Helcher, looking over her right shoulder and through the rear windshield, didn’t see the Biddles coming from the other direction as she eased her car out. Clark Biddle had just enough time to push Betty out of the way before Helcher’s car knocked him over.

Thirty-six hours later, Clark Biddle was dead from the brain injuries he received when he hit the pavement.

Biddle’s death, Helcher said, “is something I live with every day.” The only thing that could have prevented the accident, in her opinion, would have been a rearview camera in her car.

Helcher’s car and many others made in 2012 probably would have come from the manufacturer with rearview cameras as standard equipment if a law signed by President George W. Bush in February 2008 had been implemented, as the law specified, in 2011.

It wasn’t. The reason rests with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). This White House agency was established in 1980 and given broad powers by executive order during the anti-regulation fervor of President Ronald Reagan’s first term. Its job is to vet proposed regulations to be enforced by the executive branch. With a staff of about 45 people, it has the power to delay, weaken or even kill any such rule.

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