When it comes to bringing funds to Puerto Rico, the Inspector General's report lists a number of key changes that have stood in the way of effective action. One of these was months of meetings with the Bureau of Administration and Budget on the rules for approving grants and who should be allowed to tender. As a result, HUD was prevented from even posting notices to free up the funds. OMB was still making changes even when HUD tried to post those notifications and kept pushing the notifications back even when HUD thought they were done, adding additional delays.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. HUD and OMB could not even receive a large part of the aid by a self-determined deadline of May 2019. In fact, much of the funding didn't become available until January 27, 2020.
And that was just one of the problems. Other funds should not have been affected by these delays as they did not undergo the same type of OMB review that delayed the largest tranche of funds. Except that HUD decided to subject them to the same negotiations, which resulted in the same delays. Although the funds were then available for distribution through grants, HUD decided for this moment to revise the forms required to apply for grants and delayed support for Puerto Rico even longer while waiting for these new forms to be created .
The Inspector General's report does not conclude that this was a deliberate effort to slow the money down and punish Puerto Rico for not being sufficiently grateful to Trump for throwing them paper towels … but it is certainly not difficult to to come to this conclusion. As the Post emphasized, OMB had never previously asked an agency for grants to go through a screening process like the one envisaged for funds in Puerto Rico.
The EPO Inspector General's report is not about decisions that were taken too slowly or reviewed too often. They are decisions that were made more or less immediately, with no need for review.
The SAFE Vehicle Rule is the rule that sets both fuel efficiency standards and emission limits for passenger cars. In 2018, Trump announced that he would raise the limits on cars over the next decade to allow them to burn more gasoline and produce more emissions. The rule is jointly controlled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the EPA, but the agencies should have reviewed the science behind the proposed changes.
Had the EPA reviewed the rule, it would have been forced to specify exactly how much additional gas users would be consuming and how much additional pollution it would result in over the 2021-2016 period. To avoid this, the EPA used a simple trick: don't look.
Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt ruled that the SAFE vehicle rule would be based solely on the modeling and analysis of NHTSA and that NHTSA would draft most of the preamble text.
According to the law, the EPA should conduct a separate analysis of how the change would affect vulnerable populations. It was not like that. It should identify a number of milestones in the action development process that show progress in evaluating changes to the rule. That was skipped. And all these deviations from the standard process should be documented. Didn't happen.
Both reports show that under Trump, the agencies were free to ignore existing processes, rules or laws and just do the things they wanted. Whether that meant the OMB indefinitely blocked funds to Puerto Rico by insisting on a series of unprecedented reviews, or the EPA choosing to skip all reviews and only sign work that had never occurred, the outcome was giving Trump what he wanted – and hurting those he wanted to hurt.
And as similar language in both reports makes it clear, "Delays and denials of access, as well as denials of cooperation, negatively affected the ability of the [Inspectorate-General] to conduct this review." So we know it was bad. We just don't know how bad it was.