OMB Watch Statement on Cass Sunstein Confirmation Hearing

-For Immediate Release-
May 13, 2009

Contact: Brian Gumm, (202) 683-4812,

OMB Watch Statement on Cass Sunstein Confirmation Hearing

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2009—On May 12, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Cass Sunstein to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). A highly respected academic, Professor Sunstein has authored a number of provocative writings on regulation and the regulatory process. His hearing was the first opportunity to hear how he would implement President Barack Obama's regulatory agenda.

Sunstein portrayed himself as a pragmatist without an ideological agenda. In both his answers to questions at the hearing and in his written responses to questions posed by the committee, Sunstein promised a decision making framework for OIRA that relies on statutory direction, consistency with presidential policies, and pragmatic, evidence-based analyses of agencies' actions. At several points, he emphasized the importance of the law in guiding both agencies' decisions and OIRA's review. He also noted that agencies and OIRA have to consider the consequences of regulations as reflected in agencies' supporting analyses.

Sunstein is an ardent supporter of the use of cost-benefit analysis, an economic tool used in regulatory decision making, to illuminate the consequences – the benefits and the costs – of regulations. In defending the use of this approach, Sunstein said that the tool should not be used to put regulations in an "arithmetic straitjacket" and should be used consistent with the statutory mandate given to agencies. If agencies believe that regulations should be enacted even if costs exceed benefits, either because the law requires it or because other, non-quantifiable considerations justify it, agencies should explain their reasons, Sunstein said.

From OMB Watch’s perspective, respect for statutory directives to agencies is a step in the right direction. An OIRA that is less doctrinaire would be refreshing, and an OIRA administrator that sees value in public protections would be welcomed. If confirmed, we hope Sunstein will move OIRA in such directions.

Obama nominated Sunstein to head OIRA on April 20. OIRA oversees clearance of regulations and paperwork from federal agencies. It also has responsibilities on federal statistics, dissemination of information, and general information resources management. Since its inception in 1980, OIRA has been pointedly controversial in shaping federal regulations.

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OMB Watch is a nonprofit government watchdog organization dedicated to promoting government accountability, citizen participation in public policy decisions, and the use of fiscal and regulatory policy to serve the public interest.

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