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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Thursday, April 04, 2013

 
Dismantling the federal regulatory apparatus is an unusual liberal project

by digby

Read this piece if you feel like getting your blood boiling at the end of a long day.  It's about President Obama's "regulatory czar" Cass Sunstein's new book called “Simpler: The Future of Government.” It tells the story of his four years as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (“OIRA”) which oversees the executive branch's regulatory apparatus. It's Cheney-esque in its power --- obscurity.

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.

The deep and sad irony is that few government processes are as opaque as the process of OIRA review, superintended for almost four years by Sunstein himself. Few people even know OIRA exists; in fact, the adjective that most often appears in descriptions of this small office is “obscure.” Even fewer people know that OIRA has effective veto power over major rules issued by executive-branch agencies and that the decision as to whether a rule is “major” — and thus must run OIRA’s gauntlet before being issued — rests solely in OIRA’s hands. Most people, I would venture to guess, think that the person who runs, say, the Environmental Protection Agency is actually the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. But given OIRA’s power to veto rules, the reality is otherwise: In the rulemaking domain, the head of OIRA is effectively the head of the EPA.

Read the whole thing. If you know anything about the origins of the "cost benefit analysis" idea, you know that liberal isn't a word that is commonly associated with it.

And keep in mind as well, that this is not something that Republicans had anything to say about. It's purely an executive branch function and one that president's of both parties have always used to advance their own ideology, not the ideology of the opposing party, particularly in secret and without public accountability. You can't pin the blame for this one on the horrible Republicans in congress --- it's a direct reflection of the administration's priorities. And it's extremely revealing.


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