At its onset OIRA was the largest organization in OMB; even larger than the ever present BRD (Budget Review Division) responsible for assembling the federal budget. Initially OIRA had in the neighborhood a staff of 90 and had an entire floor of the New Executive Office Building. Compare these stats with the fact that OIRA now has a staff of around fifty. In no instance has the staff reductions been made by the Congress; in all instances they were imposed by the Director of OMB in both Democratic and Republican Administrations. This is not to suggest that Congress has not tried to cut OIRA’s budget because OIRA refused to support a pet project of an influential member.
Why did these reductions occur? In large part because (1) OIRA does not have a national constituency to defend it from continuous attacks, and (2) OIRA has marketed the same product for thirty five years—the review of individual regulations. This need not be the case.
OIRA could expand its product line to include:
(1) controlling the cumulative cost of regulations,
(2) reviewing the regulations of independent agencies,
(3) working to have the Data Quality Act judicially reviewable
(4) leading government-wide initiatives to de-regulate or regulate specific industrial sectors.
There are, however, several ongoing OIRA initiatives which might lead to an exception to its historical reliance on a single product line; more specifically OIRA’s administration of the Data Quality Act, its program for the retrospective review of regulations and possibly its infant program to streamline permitting.
If OIRA were to expand its product line it would increase its constituency from a constituency of one, albeit there is a no better “one” than the President, to a largely untapped national constituency who wants better government at a lower cost.
What is needed is a grass roots constituency who would support an expansion of both OIRA’s product line and the size of its staff and would utilize OIRA has a point of contact for improving the functioning of the regulatory state.
An informed citizenry will lead to the aforementioned objectives. Consequently each of the topics identified above are topics being addressed by college students participating in the development of OIRA Teaching Modules. These modules are being used to teach the inner workings of OIRA at schools of law, public policy, public administration and political science with the intended objective of developing a national constituency for OIRA; a prerequisite for both a wider mission and its continued effectiveness.
OIRA is the product of a small group of analysts in DOD who in the early 1960’s concluded that there needed to be a check on the ever growing size of the regulatory state. That check was a system of centralized regulatory review which began in the Office of the Secretary of the Army reviewing the regulations of the Corps of Engineers.
The Department of Army program for centralized regulatory review was transplanted to OMB in the form of the Nixon Quality of Life Review and rest is history.
Centralized regulatory review prospered because of the entrepreneurial spirt of its founders. They were risk takers. In fact in one instance the entire group was disbanded by an act of Congress; in another instance they physically relocated the offices of an incoming three star general who dared to have them moved to office space of a lesser status.
The individuals involved were single minded in their work, long hours and family considerations were secondary to their mission– a trait some had learned from being on active duty in the military.
OIRA has been in business for some thirty five years; during that time, and much to its credit and under constant criticism and oversight, it has demonstrated that centralized regulatory review can survive and make a noteworthy contribution to the functioning of the government. Keeping the organization alive is an accomplishment in itself.
Nonetheless OIRA’s political and civil service leaders should recognize that they need to become what is now referred to as social entrepreneurs—individuals who identify a governmental problem, develop a strategy, put a team together and execute their strategy–much in the same way a firm in Silicon Valley operates–they take ownership of the issue with a passion.
Although social entrepreneurs operate in a manner similar to private sector entrepreneurs there is a difference—social entrepreneur’s achievements are recorded in history books whereas private sector entrepreneurs achievements are recorded in bank accounts.
The aforementioned entrepreneurial skills have to be directed toward developing a national constituency for OIRA in contrast to earlier entrepreneurial skills which were used to embed centralized regulatory review into the fabric of the regulatory state.
Two Stakeholder Actions