The Incredibly-Shrinking Regulatory Reviewer

From: Free Enterprise

by Sean Hackbarth

From Driving the Day (You are reading it daily, aren’t you?) there’s a story about how the federal government’s overseer of regulators, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), has been shrinking staff while regulators’ staff have been growing:

The number of people working in federal agencies with regulatory authority has doubled to about 292,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations during the past 30 years. In the same period, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the White House bureau that reviews most major rules, has shrunk to 45 employees from 90, according to data compiled by researchers at George Washington University and Washington University in St. Louis.

That means there are fewer people to carry out the office’s main task of examining agency regulations to make sure that cost-benefit analysis and other measures of a rule’s value are up to standard. President Obama has added duties, including an executive order last month putting OIRA in charge of overseeing “regulatory look-backs,” a government-wide process of eliminating outdated or redundant rules.

OIRA’s workload has also increased:

From 1999 through 2002, a period encompassing the last two years of the administration of President Bill Clinton and the first two years of George W. Bush, OIRA reviewed 389 “economically significant’’ regulations — those with an annual impact of more than $100 million, according to agency data at

In a similar span at the end of the Bush administration and the first two years of Obama’s tenure, OIRA looked at 483 economically significant regulations.

Cass Sunstein, OIRA’s current administrator said recently, “We’d rather have 90 rather than 50, but the work is getting done.” Past administrators in the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations worry that OIRA has to examine more regulations that are more complex.

If regulators produce more rules, this government office needs the right amount of staff to evaluate them.  The only viable long-term solution though is for agencies to issue fewer economically significant rules, and not just because OIRA doesn’t have the staff to effectively analyze them.  The sheer number of economically significant rules, which continues to grow, is a drain on business and job creation.

1 comment. Leave a Reply

  1. DaltonTrumbo

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