What's New from the GW Regulatory Studies Center


New Commentaries from the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center

Latest Research from the GW Regulatory Studies Center

Recent working papers and published articles from Center scholars

Utilizing Behavioral Insights (without Romance): An Inquiry into the Choice Architecture of Public Decision-Making

October 19, 2016

By Adam C. Smith
To justify regulations that reduce consumer choice, policymakers are increasingly relying on observations from behavioral economics suggesting that people don’t always make rational decisions. However, behavioral economists generally neglect a complementary examination of public decision-makers. Through a public choice lens, Smith compares two public agencies influenced by behavioral economics, the U.S. CFPB and U.K Behavioral Insights Team, and finds that their different institutional structures lead to divergent policy outcomes. He concludes that for policies to be welfare-improving, they must be based on an understanding of public choice architecture as well as private choice architecture.


Public Comment on The Department of Homeland Security’s Proposed International Entrepreneur Rule

October 18, 2016

By Daniel R. Pérez
The Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule would expand the use of its discretionary authority to parole individuals into the United States for reasons of “significant public benefit” to include foreign entrepreneurs looking to start a business in the U.S. DHS recognizes that “the full potential of foreign entrepreneurs to benefit the U.S. economy is presently limited since many…do not qualify under existing nonimmigrant and immigrant classifications.” The rule proposes several criteria for approving applicants on a case-by-case basis. This comment proposes several changes that DHS could make to its proposed rule to maximize its potential benefits.

Nudge Theory

One Standard to Rule Them All: The Disparate Impact of Energy Efficiency Regulations

October 12, 2016

Chapter by Sofie E. Miller and Brian F. Mannix
Federal regulations restrict the energy that everyday products can use, for everything from cars to microwaves. While these rules impose significant costs on consumers, the benefits are harder to identify. Agencies claim that restricting consumers’ choices provides consumers with large benefits, but this reasoning is hard to reconcile with the fact that consumers have many legitimate reasons to prefer the appliances they buy and the cars they drive. This chapter explores the reasoning behind energy efficiency regulations and why these reasons are insufficient to support the large costs they impose on consumers, especially low-income consumers.

Stack of money

How Declining Budgets at U.S. Regulatory Agencies Could Improve Performance

September 19, 2016

By Marcus Peacock
Although spending on U.S. regulatory programs has doubled in the last 20 years, that trend is unlikely to last. How these programs manage budget cuts will determine whether downsizing harms or helps regulatory performance. Leaders of regulatory agencies must avoid satisfying tighter budgets with temporary “mindless austerity” measures that anger workers. Instead managers should use scarcity to find, with workers, “frugal innovations” that can significantly and permanently improve program value. In this working paper, Peacock examines how agencies can get budget cuts to help rather than harm.

Dept. of Treasury

Improving the Accountability of Federal Regulatory Agencies, Part III: What Reforms Work Best

September 12, 2016

By Marcus Peacock
What can regulatory reformers learn from past government-wide reform efforts? Two previous Regulatory Insights describe eight major U.S. government initiatives that failed to improve accountability. This Insight identifies a lack of leadership and unfaithful execution by agency personnel as barriers to success. These problems could be addressed by: (1) codification of reform; (2) adopting modest reform proposals (incrementalism); (3) creating third parties to implement/enforce reform; and (4) establishing competition between regulatory programs such as through a regulatory budget.


How Effective Are Federally Mandated Information Disclosures?

August 30, 2016

by Arthur G. Fraas and Randall Lutter in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis
Government mandates to disclose information are a standard response to problems of asymmetric information. Fraas and Lutter examine recent major U.S. regulations issued between 2008 and 2013 to identify disclosure mandates and look for quantitative assessments of their effectiveness in improving comprehension. The authors find that although mandated disclosures underpin a number of major federal regulatory initiatives, agencies infrequently issue such mandates based on scientifically valid, controlled studies of the improvements in comprehension from such disclosure and recommend reforms to improve federally mandated information disclosure.

Manufactured homes

Public Comment on Energy Conservation Standards for Manufactured Housing

August 16, 2016

By Sofie E. Miller
The Department of Energy’s proposed rule would establish new energy efficiency standards for manufactured housing (formerly known as mobile homes). Due to anticipated price increases, the rule would have a regressive effect on low-income and elderly households, who are the primary occupants of manufactured homes. DOE’s analysis doesn’t take into account resale market obstacles that could prevent homeowners from recouping the higher upfront costs of efficient units, especially in Southern states with high poverty rates that bear the highest costs from the rule.


Public Comment on The Department of Education’s Proposed Rule on Student Assistance General Provisions, Federal Student Loans Programs and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant Program

August 02, 2016

By Daniel R. Pérez
The total outstanding balance of student loans is currently estimated to be $1.35 trillion, and default rates among borrowers have reached their highest levels in 20 years. The rule proposed by The Department of Education (ED) would make several amendments to regulations governing its Federal Direct Loan Program, including: 1) an expansion of the conditions wherein ED forgives borrowers’ loan balances, 2) additional provisions that broaden its ability to recover losses from institutions, and 3) expanded financial requirements for postsecondary schools. ED estimates this rule could have annual federal budget impacts of up to$4.23 billion.

U.S. Capitol

Structure vs. Process: Examining the Interaction between Bureaucratic Organization and Analytical Requirements

July 25, 2016

By Stuart Shapiro
Attempts by politicians to control bureaucratic decisions include both structural organization and procedural rules. But how do these interact? This article examines the relationship between bureaucratic structure and the requirement that agencies conduct an analysis of their decisions prior to their issuance in the context of two types of analysis: cost-benefit analysis and environmental impact assessment. The research finds that conduct of analysis is affected by where analysts are placed in agencies. In particular independence of analysts has a tradeoff. Despite this, analysts expressed a clear preference for independence.

The Final Countdown Report Cover

The Final Countdown: Projecting Midnight Regulations

July 12, 2016

By Sofie E. Miller and Daniel R. Pérez
The final months of presidential administrations are accompanied by a significant increase in regulatory output as the executive branch relies increasingly on unilateral activity in a rush to implement its remaining policy priorities. This has come to be known as the “midnight period.” This report contains two robust, quantitative models that contribute to the scholarship in this area by: predicting the number of economically significant rules likely to be issued during the Obama administration’s final months, and finding that independent regulatory agencies do not increase their regulatory output during presidential transitions.

Corn field at sunset

Public Comment on EPA’s Proposed Renewable Fuel Standards for 2017 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2018

July 12, 2016

By Sofie E. Miller
EPA’s latest Renewable Fuel Standard proposal would increase the mandated total renewable fuel production to 18.8 billion gallons in 2017. Although it was intended to improve the environment, availability of new scientific, technical, and economic information shows that the RFS program is likely causing significant environmental harm through increased greenhouse gas emissions and damage to waterbodies and ecosystems. Given the environmental damage and the large economic impact of the standards, EPA should update its benefits analysis and consider using its waiver authority to further reduce the standards.

Department of Energy seal

Public Comment on DOE’s Regulatory Burden Request for Information “Reducing Regulatory Burden”

July 11, 2016

By Sofie E. Miller
To improve its ongoing retrospective review efforts, this public comment recommends that the Department of Energy incorporate plans for retrospective review into its economically significant or major rules, and provide enough time between energy efficiency standards to allow for an effective review of each rule before increasing the stringency of its standards. DOE should also consider surveys or other measures of actual consumer behavior to ensure that its assumptions about household appliance energy use are accurate. Finally, DOE should commit to measuring whether its standards negatively affect competition in regulated industries.

Washington Monument

Improving the Accountability of Federal Regulatory Agencies, Part II: Assessing Eight Government-wide Accountability Reforms

June 28, 2016

By Marcus Peacock
Greater accountability at regulatory agencies is desirable because (1) the public has a right to know how government affects society and (2) greater accountability improves agency performance. As described in the last Insight in this series, the U.S. attempted eight major government-wide initiatives to increase accountability at federal agencies, including regulatory agencies. This Insight reviews public and expert opinion, which indicate these initiatives failed to improve accountability. New proposals to improve accountability at regulatory agencies could benefit from understanding why previous efforts fell short.

U.S. Capitol

Improving the Accountability of Federal Regulatory Agencies, Part I: A Review of Government-Wide Efforts

June 22, 2016

By Marcus Peacock
Given the broad interest in improving regulatory accountability, especially by learning from the actual results achieved by previous regulations, it is ironic that little has been done to learn from the results of past regulatory reform efforts. Before mandating further requirements, Congress and the President should examine past government-wide accountability initiatives to assess their outcomes. This first Regulatory Policy Insight in a series of three on improving regulatory accountability identifies eight major past initiatives. Future Insights will examine the relative success of these eight reforms and what lessons they offer.


The Regulatory Budget Debate

June 20, 2016

By Richard J. Pierce, Jr.
For 35 years OIRA has used benefit-cost-analysis to review major rules issued by executive branch agencies. Generally, OIRA reviews major proposed agency rules to determine whether their expected benefits to society exceed their expected costs to society. If the estimated costs of a proposed rule exceed its estimated benefits, OIRA urges the agency to change the rule in ways that will increase its benefits and reduce its costs. For almost as long as OIRA has been applying BCA, some of the smartest and most productive progressive scholars have criticized the role of OIRA generally and OIRA’s use of BCA in particular. It is time for those scholars to stop wasting their energy tilting at windmills and put their extraordinary talents to use in more promising endeavors.