Editor’s Note: In that the Center for Progessive Reform is also interested in presidential accountability in rulemaking, we have, subsequent to the text below prepared by CRE, downloaded a description of their activities as described on their website.
The Environmental Forum, a publication of the Environmental Law Institute http://www.eli.org, has been on the cutting edge of reporting on presidential review of regulations; see the articles in their first edition in 1982, and subsequent articles in 2004 and 2012.
OIRA was established based upon a recognition of the fact that regulations are a key instrument for managing federal agencies and that the President as the CEO of the executive branch has a responsibility for ensuring that regulations are effective and science based.
A close reading of the articles published by ELI clearly demonstrates that centralized regulatory review in OMB has progressed only after an informed discussion among all affected stakeholders.
CPR’s Eye on OIRA (from CPR website)
Public Scrutiny for an Unnoticed Regulatory Powerhouse
The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has an unenviable reputation. The media can’t seem to resist calling it “obscure,” and often refer to its director as the “regulatory czar.” Among progressives, it’s regarded as an unduly sympathetic ally of industry lobbyists trying to water down or kill protective regulations.
In fact, all those things are more or less true. It’s “obscure” because most people have no idea what it does; its director is fairly described as a “czar” (within the meaning of the term in Washington, not in pre-revolutionary Russia!) because he wields extraordinary power over the regulatory structure; and it is clearly the place where industry lobbyists pitch their tent, hoping to delay, dilute, distort, or defang protective regulations.
OIRA is one other thing, as well. It is also the office that forces regulatory agencies to subject proposed regulations to systemically flawed cost-benefit analysis – a method of regulatory impact analysis that overstates the costs of protective regulations to industry (largely by relying on inflated industry estimates) and understates the benefits of such regulations (often by simply ignoring those that do not carry a price tag).
So for example, one EPA cost-benefit analysis calculated the worth of IQ points that children lose to in utero
mercury poisoning by “guesstimating” the impact on the children’s future earnings. (The analysis also treated the diminished likelihood that the children would attend college as a cost savings
– weighing in on the side of not bothering to regulate mercury!) Absent from the analysis because they don’t lend themselves to conversion into dollars and cents were some obvious points: that money alone doesn’t make up for brain damage, and that no parent would “sell” their child’s IQ points. Such cost-benefit analysis
outrages are all too common. Significantly, most of the statutes under which agencies regulate call for some other form of regulatory impact analysis; cost-benefit is only rarely required by law. It is imposed by executive order not by statute, and could be just as easily “un-imposed” by a President inclined to remove what was intended to be, and has plainly become, a tool for scuttling protective regulations.
An “obscure” government agency that wields outsized power is in dire need of scrutiny. That’s exactly the rationale for CPR’s Eye on OIRA project, launched in 2010 to monitor and report on the activities of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The project does not exist solely to scold OIRA. When the office is supportive of protective regulations and regulatory agencies, when it plays a constructive role in the regulatory process, CPR Member Scholars praise the agency. When OIRA strays, however, overstepping its mandate or serving as a conduit for industry complaints, the Member Scholars say so.