Obama Nominates Howard Shelanski to Lead Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

by Katie Weatherford, 6/10/2013

UPDATE (06/10/2013): The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Howard Shelanski on Wednesday, June 12. See below for some questions the committee should ask the nominee about the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), rule review backlogs, and transparency.

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On April 25, President Obama nominated Howard Shelanski as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). If confirmed, Shelanski would replace Cass Sunstein, who resigned from the position last August, leaving behind a record of lengthy delays.

Shelanski is currently the director of the Bureau of Economics at the Federal Trade Commission. He holds a law degree and a Ph.D in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and has taught law at Berkeley and Georgetown. He has also held top government positions, working as a senior economist for the President's Council of Economic Advisers and as the chief economist of the Federal Communications Commission.

We do not know Mr. Shelanski's views on OIRA's role in the regulatory process or the use of strict cost-benefit analysis to determine whether to approve standards developed by agency experts. But we have several questions we hope Mr. Shelanski will answer during his confirmation process.

Executive Order 12866 sets a time limit of up to 120 days for OIRA to review agency standards, requires OIRA to explain in writing its reasons for rejecting an agency proposal, and mandates agencies disclose OIRA's changes to the public. OIRA has a poor record of meeting deadlines and following the transparency requirements of the executive order. It has been criticized for blocking important rules indefinitely without giving the affected agency or the public any explanation of its reasons for doing so. Will Mr. Shelanski commit to clearing the backlog of pending rules if he is confirmed? Will he increase transparency at OIRA by posting details of private meetings in a timely manner and making publicly available all of OIRA’s edits to rules drafted by agency experts?

Many worker safety and environmental statutes prohibit reliance on cost-benefit analysis – i.e. health and environmental concerns should drive rule development. Will Mr. Shelanski follow these statutes and ensure OIRA does not require a form of cost-benefit balancing that Congress never imagined? In other words, will Mr. Shelanski elevate public safety over commercial interests as the law demands? Under Shelanski, OIRA should limit its role to ensuring that agencies reasonably implement the laws Congress has written.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) will hold a hearing on the nomination. The committee should ask Shelanski to clarify his position on these and other tough issues before confirming him as the new head of OIRA.

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