Mick Mulvaney asked the acting budget director to remind agencies of document clearance procedures.

Mick Mulvaney asked the acting budget director to remind agencies of document clearance procedures. Evan Vucci / AP

OMB Reminds Agencies That It Vets Documents Before Roll-Outs

Deputy Director Vought reinforces need for clearance of budget and media materials.

Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director currently acting as his chief of staff, on Wednesday tightened enforcement of the Office of Management and Budget’s central role in vetting agency release of budget and policy documents.

In a Feb. 26 memo to agency heads, acting Budget Director Russell Vought laid out long-standing authority for OMB to review agency budget materials, legislation, testimony and program operating plans.

“Following these clearance processes is absolutely critical to ensuring that agency actions are consistent with the president's policies and programs,” the memo stated. “Please do everything possible to make sure that your internal agency processes take proper account of these review expectations and deadlines for submission of various materials requiring clearance.”

Though Vought mentioned no specific action that prompted the reminder, he wrote that Mulvaney “has asked me to review with all departments and agencies the clearance process for certain documents and materials prior to their discussion by or dissemination outside the executive branch.”

Existing authorities cited for “reviewing many agency materials” included OMB Circular No. A-11, which provides comprehensive guidance on budget formulation and execution, and sets forth the OMB review and approval process for the preparation and submission of agency materials regarding the president's budget, including communication with Congress on supplemental and administrative requests, such as reprogramming requests and notification.

He also cited Circular A-19, which sets forth requirements and procedures for the coordination and clearance of legislation and executive branch views. It covers: draft legislation; written testimony by executive branch officials before Congress; and transmittals of legislative views, recommendations or principles.

Finally the memo cited Executive Order 12866, which outlines OMB's coordination of executive branch review of significant regulations and guidance documents before publication, adding that “this is not an exhaustive list.” The Feb. 26 memo “does not affect or change any existing clearance or review authority or practice,” it stated.

The document reminded all agencies that they “should be working with White House Cabinet Affairs, Communications, and Legislative Affairs when developing and executing media and legislative strategy,” with sufficient advance notice.

Such directives do reflect “longstanding policy across administrations,” Larry Haas, who was a communications official at OMB during the Clinton administration, told Government Executive. “The more interesting question is what prompted it. I suspect that one or more Cabinet or sub-Cabinet officials submitted testimony, sent letters, issued statements, or something of that like that not only bypassed the OMB clearance process but also contradicted administration policy.”

Kathryn Stokes, past president of the National Association of Government Communicators, agreed. “The memo does not seem out of step with other administrations," she said. "In fact, the information reinforces existing procedures. All the documents referenced in the memo pre-date the current administration.”

OMB did not respond to Government Executive requests for elaboration by publication time.