House Committees Consider Regs, Cyber Attacks, and Science

Wednesday was a busy day in the House.  Several Committees met and marked up legislation or held hearings on topics of interest to state drinking water programs.

Regulations:  The House Judiciary Committee’s Regulatory Reform Subcommittee passed a 2013 version of the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act.  As passed by the Subcommittee, the measure would require all Federal Agencies to submit any Federal rule that has an economic consequence $100 million or more to Congress for review before taking effect.  Congress would have 70 days to concur or the regulation would not take effect.  In 2012, the full House approved an identical version of REINS but a Senate companion piece was not taken up for action.  It remains to be seen if this year’s effort has greater success.

Cyber:  The full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee marked up HR 1163 that amends the Federal Information Security Act (FISA) in an effort to improve cybersecurity at Federal agencies.  Under the bill’s provisions, Federal Agency heads would be responsible for increasing security levels for infrastructure information and for coordinating a more integrated agency wide information security program.  This would result in a more risk-based approach to defend against cyberattacks.  Similar measures passed the House last year but were not successful in the Senate.  At present, there is no Senate companion measure.

Science:  A subcommittee of the House Science Committee heard testimony from witnesses on the composition and independence of EPA’s science advisory groups like the Science Advisory Board (SAB).  The SAB advises EPA on the science that supports its regulatory development process and is currently considering issues related to perchlorate and arsenic.  The concern from some members (primarily, Republicans) is that the science panels are not balanced because they rely too heavily on academics and do not have adequate representation from industry.  They note that industry representatives have expertise developed from many years of direct experience in the field.  These members also questioned whether panel members who had been recipients of EPA grants are only restating EPA positions and not offering objective advice.  A representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists was not as concerned about the perceived balance of the panels, pointing out that many academics were also tied to industry.  They were most concerned about conflict of interest and recommended panel members be qualified as “special government employees” which requires a full conflict of interest screening (although does not require they be government employees.)   If there was any agreement, it was that there needs to be more open review of potential panel members so that concerns can be identified and addressed before the panel is formed.  To that end, legislation may be introduced to modify the Act governing the formation of these advisory groups.