President Biden speaks about efforts to combat COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House.

President Biden speaks about efforts to combat COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House. Evan Vucci / AP

White House Reminds Agencies to Get Its Approval on Policy Proposals and Certain Communications

Goal is to ensure the administration "speaks with one voice."

The Biden administration is reminding agencies that they should coordinate all policy rollouts and certain communications with the White House to ensure the president’s agenda is properly reflected. 

Agency officials must clear all legislative proposals, testimony and letters with the White House, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Robert Fairweather said in a memorandum issued this week. Any press releases related to the budget should also go through the White House, said Fairweather, who requested adequate advance notice to review and sign off on all relevant documents.   

“OMB runs a clearance process on these items, which requires sufficient time to review and coordinate with all relevant agencies, and offices in the Executive Office of the President,” Fairweather wrote. 

The document is fairly routine, and appears to take a less aggressive approach than one issued under President Trump. The memo stressed the White House simply would like to ensure agencies adhere to “longstanding requirements of the clearance process.” The message was slightly toned down from one the Trump administration sent out two years ago, which called on agencies to work with White House communications staff in executing all media strategy. Russ Vought, then acting OMB director, said it was “absolutely critical” all agency policies and communications reflect President Trump’s priorities. Unlike the Trump-era document, Biden’s made no reference to coordinating with the White House on communications related to regulations. 

OMB said it will soon reach out to all agencies to begin drafting legislative proposals to support Biden’s agenda and to draft the fiscal 2022 budget. The White House has not yet indicated when it will release its budget for the next fiscal year, but said the process was delayed when the outgoing OMB team declined to provide insight into the necessary figures and data.

The memo explained the primary purpose of the clearance process was to ensure communications with lawmakers are consistent with the president’s objectives and that the administration “speaks with one voice” on legislation. The oversight will allow agencies to “reconcile differences” in policy approaches with the White House and ensure all outstanding issues are resolved before speaking publicly or with Congress. OMB will send legislative proposals and draft testimonies to all agencies to allow them to weigh in before clearing them, Fairweather said in the memo. Even informal talking points communicated to Congress must receive approval from the White House. 

When a bill passes Congress, OMB asked that agencies impacted by the legislation submit information on its major provisions and how they comport with Biden’s agenda for the White House to review as it determines whether the president should sign the measure into law.

While each new administration tweaks the process by which its White House clears communications and policy at the agency level, the general framework has been in place for decades.