James Goodwin on CPRBlog {Bio}
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One Year In, the Obama Administration’s ‘Path to Progress’ Is Benefiting the American People and Our Environment

From the moment they secured majorities in both chambers, congressional Republicans have made no secret of their intention to launch an all-out, guerilla warfare-style campaign against the federal government — and even the very notion of governance itself. Accordingly, they have pursued a strategy of salt-the-earth sabotage designed to spread like a communicable disease the dysfunction that has long characterized the legislative branch to the executive branch. Given the unrepentant nihilism, many political observers were quick to pen their epitaphs for the Obama Administration after the 2014 mid-term elections, opining that little progress would be made during the final two years in office, particularly where public safeguards and environmental protections were concerned.

But something funny has happened over the last year. To the dismay of congressional Republicans and their corporate benefactors, the Obama Administration has had one of the most productive years of any president in recent memory, at least on the regulatory front, securing critical new safeguards for people and the environment that will continue to deliver such benefits as cleaner air and safer food for decades to come.

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The Fall 2015 Regulatory Agenda is Out, and the Clock is Now Ticking

Opponents of safeguards are fond of decrying what they claim is a regulatory system out of control, churning out rules at a break-neck pace.  It’s not difficult to refute  this claim when the president releases the twice-annual regulatory agenda, which spells out all the active rulemakings that are currently pending and the expected timetables for making progress on those rules that agencies expect to make over the next 12 months.  Sure enough, time and time again the semiannual regulatory agenda demonstrate that most facets of the regulatory system are moving along at a snail’s pace, the victims of politics, under-funded agencies, and a rulemaking process that favors industry.

By comparing the expected timetables in this regulatory agenda against those from the most recent one in Spring 2015, one can see how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other agencies are falling further and further behind on completing crucial new safeguards.  In some cases, the rules have been the subject of new delays over the past several regulatory agendas.

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Ten Things I Hate About Jeb's Antiregulatory Regulatory Reform Plan

Consistent with his ongoing efforts to distinguish himself among the Republican presidential candidates as a serious “policy wonk,” Jeb Bush, “rolled out” his “regulatory reform” plan last week.  The sad truth, though, is that the plan contains little of what might be considered sober or intellectually rigorous.   Rather, it is simply a mishmash of warmed over ideas from candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 regulatory reform plan and from the various antiregulatory bills that have been festering in Congress the last several years, all served on a wilted bed of misleading data, astounding leaps of logic, and outright falsehoods.

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New Research Affirms That Corporate Interest Lobbying at OIRA Holds Sway

When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton is said to have responded, “Because that’s where the money is.”  For decades, the accepted conventional wisdom held that a similar dynamic motivated legions of industry lobbyists to parade through the front door at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  Why—one might ask—does industry spend so much time complaining to OIRA’s political appointees and staff-level economists about rules they find inconvenient to their bottom line?  Because, like CPR has been saying for many years in reports, apparently that’s where the regulatory relief is to be had.

In 2011, we released a ground-breaking report that sought to move beyond mere intuition and confirm with actual data the degree to which industry was able to wield its outsized influence to secure favorable deregulatory changes to agencies’ pending rulemakings.  

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The SBA Office of Advocacy . . . Taxpayer Funded Lobbyist for Berkshire Hathaway?

When it commenced on June 1, OIRA’s review of the EPA’s draft final rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants launched a flurry of lobbying activity among a veritable who’s who of America’s largest fossil fuel polluters.   In just over six weeks, the White House’s antiregulatory shop has presided over no less than 21 Executive Order 12866 meetings, the majority of which involved high-priced corporate lobbyists seeking to dilute, delay, or block the rule outright.

The log for a July 1 meeting requested by Berkshire Hathaway Energy contains an interesting tidbit:  Among the attendees was a representative of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy.  Nominally, of course, the mission of the SBA Office of Advocacy is to ensure that the concerns of America’s small businesses are adequately represented in the federal rulemaking process.  So, it’s a little perplexing that a member of the SBA Office of Advocacy staff would be seated alongside the President and CEO of one of the largest and wealthiest energy concerns in the United States and two of its vice presidents.  Berkshire Hathaway Energy is of course a component of Berkshire Hathaway, the Chairman and CEO of which is Warren Buffet who himself is currently listed as the third wealthiest person on earth.

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The Real Nine Most Terrifying Words in the English Language

“I’m Republican, and I want to do regulatory reform.”  Whether they’ve uttered that exact nine-word phrase or not, virtually every Republican on Capitol Hill has enthusiastically endorsed the sentiment it expresses at some point—if not on a near-daily basis—during the last few years.  Who could blame them?  The unshakable conviction that our regulatory system is broken and that gutting it is the key to its salvation is apparently one of the few areas where all the GOP’s members can find common ground.  Attacking the regulatory system has become a safe topic of conversation for conservatives—almost their version of “weather” small talk.  And not for nothing, they’re pretty confident it’s a political winner, too.

Witness this week, when both the House and the Senate have scheduled oversight hearings for the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)—an obscure bureau with a direct political line to the Oval Office that is charged with reviewing agency regulations.  In practice, OIRA serves as the single most powerful antiregulatory force in the rulemaking process, translating the White House’s political calculations and intense lobbying behind closed doors from well-connected corporate interests into the delay, dilution, or death of pending regulations.  To my knowledge, both chambers of Congress have never scheduled two OIRA oversight hearings in the same week before.

CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs is scheduled to testify at the hearing before the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law today.  As he explains in his testimony, OIRA is arguably one of the greatest sources of dysfunction in the rulemaking process, working time and again to prevent agencies from carrying out their statutory missions of protecting people and the environment in an effective and expeditious manner.  Specifically, he writes:

Not only does OIRA review extend the length of time for rulemaking, but it also provides numerous opportunities for political interference with the content of the rule.  During OIRA review of agency regulations, industry lawyers and lobbyists use OIRA as a court of last resort to weaken or block pending regulations that have been vetted within the agency that promulgated them.

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Senate Joint Committee Hearing Dedicated to Attacking Public Servants

When your public approval rating has hovered at or below 20 percent for the last several years, maybe the last thing you should be doing is maligning other government institutions.   That didn’t stop a group of Senators from spending several hours doing just that today during a joint hearing involving the Senate Budget and Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committees.  The joint hearing was nominally about a nonsense regulatory reform proposal called “regulatory budgeting” (for more on that, see here), but it quickly devolved into a no-holds-barred hate session directed at federal agency employees, as the upright and honorable members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” repeatedly attacked the prevailing “culture” at agencies.

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You Can Be for Cost-Benefit Analysis or You Can Be for Regulatory Budgeting, But You Can’t be for Both

For decades, so-called regulatory “reformers” have backed up their sales pitches with the same basic promise:  Their goal is not to stop regulation per se but to promote smarter ones.  This promise, of course, was always a hollow one.  But it gave their myriad reform proposals—always involving some set of convoluted procedural or analytical requirements designed to surreptitiously sabotage the rulemaking process—some shred of legitimacy, while insulating the proponents against any public backlash that might follow from such cynical attacks on broadly popular public health, safety, and environmental programs.

If the real motivation behind the “regulatory reform” movement wasn’t clear before, then tomorrow’s hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs and Budget Committees on “regulatory budgets” ought to peel away the last of any lingering doubts.  The idea behind “regulatory budgeting” (or “regulatory pay-go,” as it is sometimes known) is that Congress would set a hard cap on total regulatory costs, and once the cap has been met, agencies would be prohibited from issuing any rules until their costs have been offset by the removal of existing regulations.  Its proponents claim that this cap on regulatory costs somehow reflects all the safeguards our country “needs” or “can afford.”  Ask them to substantiate that claim, though, and all you’ll get is a lot of arm waving and vague platitudes.


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Obama Administration Crosses Off a Big Item on Its Safeguard To-Do List, But Much Remains to be Done

Unless you’re living under a rock or are a FIFA executive official being indicted for criminal conspiracy, you’ve no doubt heard by now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has at long last released its final rule establishing a clear regulatory definition that, consistent with both the previous court decisions and the best available science, delineates which water systems are covered by the Clean Water Act.  The rule was included in a recent CPR Issue Alert, highlighting 13 essential regulatory actions that the Obama Administration should commit to completing during its remaining time in office.

The rule would seem to provide everything that conservative opponents of regulation would want: regulatory certainty and efficient use of agency funds (i.e., by preventing the EPA from having to undertake wasteful case-by-case analyses of which water bodies warrant federal protection).  Yet, it has been a lightning rod of controversy, attracting specious claims that the rulemaking represent a nefarious attempt by power-drunk, faceless bureaucrats in Washington, DC, to assert federal control over all land use in the United States.

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More Right-Wing Pseudo-Research on the Costs of Regulation

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is out with the latest in a series of industry-friendly reports overcooking the supposed costs of regulation, while understating or simply ignoring the vast benefits to health, safety and the environment. Not surprisingly, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times were good enough to put the right-wing echo chamber in motion in its service.

A few quick thoughts: This report isn’t scholarship, it’s arithmetic advocacy—and it’s poor arithmetic at that.  The organization that sponsored the report is more concerned with advancing its political agenda of laissez faire government at all costs than it is with sound public policy. This report is meant to advance that agenda, rather than inform the ongoing debate over the U.S. regulatory system. After all, what good does it do to tally up the costs of regulation without providing an estimate of regulatory benefits with which to compare them? Policymakers and the media would do well to ignore this report.

The report’s findings appear to be based on several inflated regulatory cost estimates, lined up and added together to produce exactly what the author likely intended: a huge number. Some of the numbers come from estimates produced by regulatory agencies themselves, which several retrospective studies have shown to be systematically inflated. Others come from individual reports assembled by the author. To the extent that the CEI report is based on several different sources that relied on a variety of different methodologies, there is a large possibility that simply adding them up will result in a lot of double counting, further inflating the CEI report’s conclusion. The author of the CEI report, however, appears to make no effort to address this problem either.

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