WASHINGTON — The ongoing federal shutdown is delaying the Trump administration's deregulation efforts, officials at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said during a press event last week.
"[It's] absolutely slowing down and in some cases bringing to a halt the deregulatory activity of the agencies," Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the advocacy group, said. "If you've lost 20 days where you're supposed to be working on a process of moving a regulation through the pipeline, you're never going to get those back. And that begins to have real-world consequences to the extent that the administration, through its agencies, can pursue its agenda."
Employers are waiting for several high-profile regulatory decisions in the coming months and one of them — the process for allotting H-1B visas to skilled foreign workers — connects to the immigration debate at the center of the shutdown. In comments made Jan. 5, President Donald Trump told press he would be looking into the skilled foreign workers issue as part of a larger push toward a merit-based immigration system. On Jan. 11, the president tweeted that H-1B holders in the U.S. "can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship."
Trump's comments were surprising to some in the business community, especially as stakeholders await a final decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on what could be a revamped H-1B application process for the 2020 fiscal year. It's not yet clear whether DHS intends to implement the system in time for the April 2 deadline by which employers submit their H-1B visa petitions, but the agency has been encouraged by some in the employer community to delay the change.
Separately, the U.S. Department of Labor also is pursuing regulatory changes, most notably to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations setting an overtime threshold. The administration confirmed Jan. 11 that a new overtime rule was sent to the White House's Office of Management and Budget for review. The National Labor Relations Board also extended the public comment deadline for its new joint-employer standard to late January.
Meanwhile, the shutdown has closed other key entities, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which also now lacks a quorum. Three seats on the commission are open, and out of three of Trump's nominees to fill those vacancies, two — Chai Feldblum and Daniel Gade — have withdrawn their names from consideration.
As part of his annual State of American Business address, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue addressed the immigration debate, calling on the president and Congress to come to an agreement. "Our nation must continue to attract and welcome industrious and innovative people from all over the world and finally fix our broken immigration system," he said.
Donohue said at the press event that the shutdown also would have an impact on economic growth, citing the delay it causes in the completion of some regulatory functions that impact businesses, such as the delivery of items like tax stickers used in trade. But that impact also is hitting home for federal workers, some of whom are reportedly relying on gig platforms, including Uber and TaskRabbit, to get by. "I think it's in everybody's interest to get on with the deal," Donohue said.