WASHINGTON—In 1985 the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health decided to find out if computer monitors cause miscarriages. So it did what any good research body would do: It drew up a questionnaire to ask women about their medical history, work and home life, and fertility. But because NIOSH is a federal agency, the survey first had to pass muster at the Office of Management and Budget (0MB).

0MB rejected it, carrying out its authority under a 1980 law, meant to reduce the burden on citizens from government paperwork. According to two separate reports, that decision is an example of the heavy hand that 0MB has wielded in monitoring the activities of federal research agencies. 0MB too often acts out of ignorance or ideological bias, say the reports, rather than following the law’s intent to reduce the amount of paperwork generated by the federal government.

The new reports, from...

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