OMB seeks feedback on risk assessment guidelines

John Graham, head of the Office of Management and Budget's regulatory division, is making his last days memorable.

Graham, who leaves on March 1 to run the RAND Corp.'s graduate school in policy analysis, has issued a proposed risk assessment bulletin that would create new rules for regulators in the interest of promoting "sound science." An OMB spokesman said, "The quality and transparency of risk assessments currently varies from agency to agency. This bulletin provides clear, minimum standards for agency risk assessments."

The guidelines, which were published as a draft bulletin on Jan. 9, will be open to public comment through June 15 and have been forwarded to the National Academy of Sciences for review, according to an OMB statement. These inputs, as well as comments from federal agencies, will be used to issue final guidelines late this year.

The bulletin would apply to all federal agencies covered by the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act, but is likely to have the most impact on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor and Transportation, according to an OMB official who asked to remain anonymous.

The bulletin would require agencies to explain in more detail the uncertainties involved in estimating hazards from things such as toxic chemicals and to present their findings ("this chemical can kill you") in the context of other risks ("you are more likely to be hit by a bus").

Environmentalists, who have portrayed Graham, a former Harvard professor, as a shill for industry, argue that burying risk statements under such caveats will make it more difficult to regulate anything.

But James Hammitt, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, said the proposed guidelines incorporate a good deal of common sense.

"I imagine that many of the best risk assessments that are done, for example, those at EPA that I'm most familiar with, already comply with most of this," Hammitt said. "These guidelines are trying to raise the level of the not-so-good examples."

The proposal covers a wide range of appraisals, including ones that evaluate baseline risk or risk mitigation activities, as well as less comprehensive studies such as exposure or hazard assessments. The bulletin separates risk assessments into two categories: "influential" and standard.

Assessments identified as influential--defined as having a "clear and substantial impact" on public policies or private sector decisions--would be subject to more rigorous standards.

The guidelines also would require in-depth risk analyses to include a range of estimates, including central and nonconservative estimates in addition to conservative "upper-bound" estimates. Assessments of the degree of uncertainty associated with each estimate would need to be included.

Hammitt said this could be difficult for studies of human exposure to rare toxic chemicals, which often are extrapolated from testing on laboratory animals, where direct applicability to humans is difficult to quantify.

A provision requiring agencies to consider all "significant comments" on draft risk assessments is likely to cause debate because it presumes that all "scientific" comments are significant, Hammitt said. "How do you decide if someone is a crackpot scientist?" he asked.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.