Heretofore, OIRA was virtually an unknown organization. However most recently in books written about the regulatory state it is appearing with an increasing frequency. For example, Mr. Charles Murray in a book By the People-Rebuilding Liberty without Permission states:

For rules that are deemed to be “significant”—in the Obama administration so far, about 20 percent of the total—the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), part of the Office of Management and Budget, will get involved in the process.[ 4 ] OIRA acts as a coordinator with other agencies, provides additional input, mediates disagreements, and is a conduit for the White House’s position on proposed regulations.

OIRA gets a chance to review “significant” proposed regulations, but has no power to quash them or demand specific changes. There’s another consideration, true of bureaucracies in all democratic countries: Political appointees come and go quickly. The real control of what a regulatory agency does remains with the career staff.

OIRA took on its regulatory review function in the early days of the Reagan administration. In 1993, the definition of significant was established by President Clinton’s Executive Order 12866. Under the current definition, a regulation is automatically deemed significant if it has an annual effect greater than $100 million. Other qualifying characteristics are that it is likely to have major adverse effects, create inconsistencies with actions taken by another agency, materially alter the budgetary effects of entitlements or other transfers, or raise novel legal or policy issues. See Sunstein (2013a), 1850–51.

This is not to say that OIRA has been ineffective. On the contrary, Sunstein’s book about his time in office has a number of examples of bad regulations forestalled or changed for the better. See Sunstein (2013b). I will add that I wish Sunstein had remained at OIRA longer—if his attitudes toward regulation were more widely shared, we would have much better regulation. But after reading his account of how the review system works in Sunstein (2013a), the question is not why he left after three and a half years but how he survived psychologically unimpaired for even three and a half months.

Those wishing to impact OIRA’s operation should not only read the aforementioned book but they should also utilize the information and technology contained in the OIRA Module to support and improve the organization.

View Jared Bernstein’s C-SPAN interview with Charles Murray.