As federal agencies scramble to respond to COVID-19, there’s another initiative rolling forward that you probably haven’t heard of, one that was built by data wonks and will influence regulation in ways we’re just now beginning to understand. As part of a new legal requirement, agencies are writing learning agendas to organize the way they approach research, including regulatory research.
Learning agendas will allow agencies to coordinate their research plans internally and externally, including with outside researchers who can help answer agency questions. But learning agendas, like many public processes, are subject to the pernicious influence of rent-seeking. As agencies consider which questions to add to their learning agendas, they should be wary of those who try to shape agency questions for their own gain.
Especially in these early days of learning agenda implementation, agencies should tread carefully with regulatory questions. The questions contained in Executive Order 12,866, the long-standing directive that guides regulatory development, offer a steady path forward. These questions are time-tested and provide an alternative to the questions that various individual interests might prefer. Learning agendas could help bring these questions to the front of regulatory processes, which is where they belong.