“In his new book, “Simpler: The Future of Government,” Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein writes about his nearly four years as President Barack Obama’s “regulatory czar.” As the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (known as “OIRA”) within the Office of Management and Budget, Sunstein oversaw the regulatory output of the many agencies of the executive branch. Rules on worker health, environmental protection, food safety, health care, consumer protection, and more all passed through Sunstein’s inbox.
“Some never left. A group of Department of Energy efficiency standards, for example, have languished at OIRA since 2011, as has an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule to finally reduce exposure to the silica dust that sickens workers every year.
“In his revealing book, Sunstein tells us why: It is because he, Sunstein, had the authority to “say no to members of the president’s Cabinet”; to deposit “highly touted rules, beloved by regulators, onto the shit list“; to ensure that some rules “never saw the light of day”; to impose cost-benefit analysis “wherever the law allowed”; and to “transform cost-benefit analysis from an analytical tool into a “rule of decision,” meaning that “[a]gencies could not go forward” if their rules flunked OIRA’s cost-benefit test.
“Assertive intrusions into agencies’ prerogatives — prerogatives given by law to the agencies, not to OIRA — were necessary, Sunstein insists, because otherwise agency decisions might be based not on “facts and evidence,” but on “intuitions, anecdotes, dogmas, or the views of powerful interest groups.” In Sunstein’s account, OIRA’s interventions also ensured “a well-functioning system of public comment” and “compliance with procedural ideals that might not always be strictly compulsory but that might be loosely organized under the rubric of ‘good government’.” No theme more pervades Sunstein’s book than the idea that government transparency is essential to good regulatory outcomes and to good government itself.”
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