Neomi Rao, the Trump administration’s appointee to head up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs was confirmed by the Senate today. She’ll have a big role in the Trump administration’s deregulation plan. There’s a story in the New York Times today — a joint project of the Times and ProPublica — about the other people tasked with deregulation in the various executive branch departments and agencies. New York Times reporter Danielle Ivory told Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about it. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Tell me about these deregulation teams that are spread through the government.
Danielle Ivory: Sure. Well, so Donald Trump signed an executive order in February of this year basically ordering agencies to create these deregulatory task forces. They’re being set up in all of the major agencies. Their mission is to find regulations that could be reduced or rolled back. And this isn’t a new thing. Other administrations have also looked at regulations. But in this case, it’s a little bit different, because these agencies have really empowered a lot of political appointees and many of them come from business backgrounds.
Ryssdal: So, tell me about some of those folks. Tell me about who is on these teams, what their backgrounds are.
Ivory: Sure. So, we have identified 71 appointees thus far, and 28 of those we found had potential conflicts. Some of them had come from industries where they had actually worked for employers who had tried to get regulations rolled back, and now they’re working at those agencies.
Ryssdal: Tell me then about, just to pick one, Samantha Dravis. She chairs the deregulation team at the EPA.
Ivory: Right. So Samantha Dravis was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General Association and she was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund. That brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to file lawsuits against the federal government over environmental regulations during the Obama administration. So, it is notable that she is on a task force that is going to be looking at what environmental regulations could be rolled back.
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Ryssdal: Let me ask you a question about methodology here. You say there was not a lot of response from these agencies. You point out that you dug through like 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets I think from the Department of the Interior, where you go to an office and you sign in where you’re from and you’re visiting. There is a certain amount of, “We don’t know what we don’t know” here, right?
Ivory: Yeah, there is. I mean, we’ve asked the agencies to provide us with correspondence and calendars and other information about these task forces. In some cases, agencies haven’t even told us who’s on the task force. So, I mean we’re just trying to get whatever information we can. I’m so glad that you brought up the sign-in sheet. I had been digging around on the internet basically in a fit of frustration trying to find more information about one of the interior appointees and stumbled across these visitor logs, which are very messy. They’re handwritten. And so, we just went through them and backgrounded every single person who had met with the task force appointee.
Ryssdal: So if I’m a company or an interest group, it is worth money to me to be able to get in front of these people.
Ivory: Absolutely. Companies are spending money in order to get to the front of the line. It takes a long time for regulations to be put in place. So, getting to the front of the line while this administration is young is very important to companies.