When President Biden took office a mere 40 days ago with a promise of transparency, accountability and administrative competence, his ascendance was hailed far and wide as a return to “normalcy.” On Inauguration Day, Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki assured the White House press corps of a return to “trust and transparency” in the executive branch and that “we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”
That same afternoon, President Biden issued a widely touted executive order telling agency heads to compile within 30 days a list of Trump-era environmental regulations to be rescinded or revised before the end of his first year in office. Think of it as Biden’s Year One environmental agenda.
The 30 days came and went on Feb. 19 and … almost nothing. There were no lists to be found from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department, the Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the Forest Service. Based on communications to my clients from the Justice Department, the EPA, in particular, decided its list of regulatory priorities for Year One of the Biden administration “will not be publicly disclosed.”
So, after all the trumpeting of trust and transparency as guiding principles, it turns out the Biden EPA’s regulatory priorities are a government secret.
Is it possible that Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda involves more government secrecy than we would have thought? Or that the image of a large and in-charge new administration does not match the reality of agency hackery? It wouldn’t be the first time.
Biden’s “return to normalcy” is really the return of the permanent Washington bureaucracy as the main power in the federal government. The new boss, to borrow a cutting phrase from Messrs. Daltrey and Townsend, is the same as the old boss.
Bureaucrats don’t care for elected office or the accountability that comes with it, but they do love the control they get when elected members of Congress surrender power to them. Presidents of both parties come and go, but the bureaucrats are forever. And they decide what the rules are.
They are not about transparency or “sharing accurate information with the American people.” They are about doing what they want, for their own reasons. They cloak their decision-making in executive privilege, precisely to avoid disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. They curry favor with special interests through processes that leave the public on the outside. They want room to maneuver that allows them to change their minds without giving a reason. And they don’t think they should have to explain themselves to federal courts. Instead, they insist that the courts (the guardians of our liberty) defer to agency bureaucrats.
They are so averse to sunshine, you might mistake them for vampires.
This is the same as it ever was. But it’s ominous that the new White House “commitment” to honesty and forthrightness did not survive its first 30 days. If this is how Biden plans to run his administration, we should all be paying closer attention, asking more questions, and insisting on answers instead of secrecy.
What’s equally alarming is the failure of our major media entities to hold Biden to account for his failure to uphold his own professed standards of accountability. The same reporters who were relentlessly aggressive in searching out and prosecuting the previous administration’s shortcomings appear to have grown quite timid when it comes to challenging Biden’s failure to honor his own promises of just a few weeks ago. That, too, is an ominous sign for the next four years.
In the meantime, if you are wondering whether this administration’s priorities are a risk to your livelihood, well, EPA wants you to keep wondering. If you are concerned that new regulations will limit the use of your property, EPA wants to keep you concerned and uncertain. But you don’t have to be.
It’s time we stand up and demand that Biden’s executive branch agencies live up to the president’s promises to provide a full and accurate accounting to the American people. That should start with releasing the lists of proposed changes to environmental regulations Biden ordered in January.
This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on March 1, 2021.