Beyond Structure and Process: They Early Institutionalization of Regulatory Review

From: Paper prepared for the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois, April 2017

Andrew Rudalevige


The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) these days has a bipartisan fan base, but as regulatory review was being established as a presidential power in the 1970s and early 1980s, this was not the case. This paper draws extensively on archival documents to examine the origins of regulatory review in an effort to understand how it established itself as a constant of presidential management. Successful institutionalization is not simply a matter of structure and process – that is, adding a box to an organizational flow chart – but requires resources ranging from staff, autonomy, political leverage, and expertise.

The creation of a new office and top-level process was necessary for that adjustment but not sufficient for it. Regulatory review began as a far more limited endeavor but as its utility became clear to three pre-Reagan presidents they built an infrastructure of staff, analytic expertise, and political capital which Reagan could cement together.

The key to institutional effectiveness, then, is not simply a matter of process. Indeed, a focus on process can sometimes be a substitute for, rather than enabler of, an impact on substance. It is not the issuance of executive orders but the provision of resources that make those orders function in practice. President Trump’s attempt to resuscitate regulatory relief should pay attention to that history.

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