Moving Toward the Evaluation State
In 2003, Cass Sunstein published a book called The Cost-Benefit State, and in it he argued that policymaking in the United States has transformed itself into one that emphasizes the use of economic analysis to inform government decisions before adopting new regulatory policies. That book appeared a little more than two decades after President Reagan issued Executive Order 12,291, which established the White House review process that continues to exist in largely the same form today, calling upon federal agencies to use cost-benefit analysis to look carefully at significant regulations before they adopt them.
Eight years after publishing The Cost-Benefit State, Cass Sunstein found himself heading the White House regulatory review office that oversees agencies’ economic analyses of new regulations. At that time, President Obama issued Executive Order 13,563 directing agencies to apply economic analysis to look back at significant regulations after they have adopted them. The President said that agencies “must measure, and seek to improve, the actual results of regulatory requirements” and he directed agencies to develop plans to evaluate their existing stock of regulations.
My question is simply this: Is there a way to ensure that two decades from now a scholar of Sunstein’s stature will write a book entitled The Evaluation State, arguing that policymaking in the United States has transformed itself still further to emphasize, in addition to conducting economic analysis before adopting new rules, the importance of systematically evaluating regulatory policies after they have been adopted?
The answer is yes. Steps can and should be taken now to move the government toward a policymaking culture in which agencies not only continue to conduct prospective analysis of regulations through a cost-benefit lens, but that they also take seriously the need for rigorous retrospective review of regulation.