Questions for OIRA’s Cass Sunstein

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on the nomination of Cass Sunstein to be the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12 at 10:00am, and it looks like it will be webcast.

SunsteinOIRA is a little-known but powerful office housed within the White House Office of Management and Budget. Before proposing or finalizing any regulation, agencies must submit their plans to OIRA for review. OIRA often asks for edits or changes to the regulations. If it really doesn’t like a regulation, OIRA can reject it.

Sunstein's nomination raised eyebrows. While he is a respected legal scholar, he holds controversial views on the regulatory process. Sunstein is a proponent of cost-benefit analysis in rulemaking whereby agencies try to show that hard-to-calculate benefits (like deaths avoided or ecosystems saved) exceed the regulation’s potential cost to industry.

Sunstein’s nomination hearing is likely to go smoothly, but I hope the senators on the panel throw him a few hardballs. Here are some ideas:

  • Sunstein is a big fan of market transparency and making information available to consumers. But to what extent does he believe information disclosure is a substitute for more traditional regulatory solutions? (More on that here.)
  • OIRA often does its work behind the scenes with little accountability. President Obama has pledged to make his the most transparent administration in history. What new transparency and disclosure requirements would Sunstein impose on his own office as OIRA administrator? Would he reveal communications with agencies and/or draft documents sent to OIRA for review?
  • If the costs of a proposed regulation outweigh the benefits, but the agency still wanted to move forward, would Sunstein allow the final decision about whether to regulate to rest with OIRA or with the agency?

Image from Wikimedia Commons; used under a Creative Commons license.

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