From: Business Journal

Kent Hoover, Washington Bureau Chief

Howard Shelanski walked a tightrope at his Senate confirmation hearing today — good preparation for the balancing act that awaits him as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Picture3That’s the office inside the White House that reviews agency regulations before they’re issued. It will be Shelanski’s job — if he’s confirmed — to make sure these regulations are based on strong evidence, and that their costs to the economy are considered, along with their benefits to the public.

Shelanski showed he’s got the analytical skills for such a job. He’s a smart guy — he currently heads the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Economics, and has served as chief economist for the Federal Communications Commission as well. He’s also been a law professor, serving on the faculties of the Georgetown and University of California at Berkeley law schools.

“Most of my teaching and research have focused on regulation,” he added.

So Shelanski knows the territory.

But does he have any common sense? That’s what Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wanted to know.

“You’re experience is great, to a limited extent,” Coburn told Shelanski.

But what’s been lacking in OIRA is real-world knowledge of how regulations impact an industry, the senator said.

That’s essential, since regulations cost the economy $1.8 trillion a year, according to Coburn.

Shelanski tried to convince Coburn that he has common sense, pointing out that he’s managed a large staff and has worked with real businesses when he had a private law practice. Common sense, he said, is “essential to regulatory policy.”

He certainly showed he has political sense, taking care to convince senators that he’ll be a fair judge of the regulatory process. Both business groups and public-interest groups — whose views on regulations often conflict — can find things to like in what he said about how he’ll approach his job.

Business groups will like his commitment to subjecting proposed regulations to cost-benefit analyses. Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost “than is absolutely necessary,” he said.

Shelanski also wants to “further institutionalize and enable” retrospective reviews of regulations that already are on the books, to see if they’re no longer needed or at least could be made less burdensome.

But he also pleased public-interest groups by making it clear that he doesn’t think it’s the role of OIRA to substitute its judgments about science or regulatory priorities for the judgments of an agency’s expert staff. Instead, he said, his job is to ask “hard questions” to make sure the evidence they relied on is strong.

Plus, Shelanski committed to performing OIRA’s regulatory reviews in a timely fashion. That’s not happening now. A new study by Public Citizen found that 87 rules have been under review by OIRA for more than 90 days, the deadline established by an executive order issued by President Bill Clinton. More than 50 of these rules have been under review for more than a year.

“The review process at OIRA allows the White House to mask substantive opposition to a rule under the guise of procedural delay,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy analyst for Public Citizen.

Delays can be deadly, Public Citizen argues, pointing to a rule that would protect workers from silica dust that has been sitting at OIRA for two years.

Public Citizen also wants OIRA to disclose any changes it makes to proposed rules before they become final.