Obama suspends all pending federal rule changes

In one of his first acts as the 44th president, Barack Obama ordered agencies to freeze all pending federal regulations until his team has had a chance to vet them.

A memorandum distributed shortly after the inauguration by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel stated that no proposed or final regulation should be sent to the Office of the Federal Register for publication until it has been reviewed by an Obama-appointed department or agency head. Emanuel also asked that officials reconsider final regulations that have been published, but have yet to take effect. That request could stall a recently released rule related to the Defense Department's controversial personnel reforms.

"It is important that President Obama's appointees and designees have the opportunity to review and approve any new or pending regulations," Emanuel wrote.

Every incoming president since Ronald Reagan has issued a similar directive.

White House officials have said they do not yet know how many unfinished rules the memo could affect. The Bush administration, like others before it, issued a number of controversial rule changes in its final weeks, although many already have gone into effect.

The directive could mean no new regulatory activity in the coming weeks for some administrative agencies, such as the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management. Obama has yet to appoint anyone to run either agency.

The order is subject to emergency exceptions relating to national security, health, environmental and financial matters and does not apply to directives that contain statutory or judicial deadlines.

The exception for statutory deadlines apparently would clear the way for the implementation of a number of acquisition-based rules published last week in response to provisions in the fiscal 2008 and 2009 Defense authorization acts. Those rules tightened the revolving door between the Pentagon and private sector, increased protection for Defense contractor whistleblowers and required agencies to defend any noncompetitive contracts they award.

Emanuel asked agency officials to consider extending for 60 days the implementation period of all final rules that appeared in the Federal Register but have yet to go into effect. The extension would include reopening the notice and comment period for 30 days.

"For rules that raise no substantial questions of law or policy, no further action needs to be taken," Emanuel wrote. "For rules that do raise substantial questions of law or policy, agencies should notify the OMB director and take the appropriate action."

The memo could bring at least a temporary halt to changes announced last week affecting hiring and promotions under the Defense Department's National Security Personnel System. The changes were final, but only were scheduled to take effect in mid-March.

"These are important regulations that relate to collective bargaining obligations under NSPS and, as such, they warrant full consideration from the new Obama administration before taking effect," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "We therefore strongly urge the Defense secretary and acting OPM director to extend the effective date of these regulations and to allow for additional comments about the issues of law and policy that they raise."

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