Two Executive Orders Continue Trump Administration Efforts to Restrain Agency Policymaking
Last week, President Trump signed two executive orders designed to limit the ability of federal agencies to make and enforce policy through the use of guidance documents. While this may seem like a mere technical issue, the ramifications could be significant.
A federal agency may issue a guidance document for a variety of reasons. Some agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), use it as the primary instrument for announcing and explaining significant policies. Many FDA guidance documents clarify agency positions regarding complex and ambiguous laws and regulations governing the broad range of companies it regulates. This includes manufacturers and marketers of food, dietary supplements, cosmetics, drugs and medical devices.
Some question whether agencies (including FDA) have gone too far. Agencies are supposed to promulgate a regulation when creating a new rule. In contrast, an agency may convey an interpretation of a currently existing rule through the issuance of a guidance document or other, less formal means. While it is often challenging to distinguish a new rule from an interpretation, the distinction has serious implications. The cost, time and effort required to publish a guidance document are far lower. Notably, a regulation may only be finalized after the agency has received and addressed all public comments. No such requirement exists for guidance documents.