Consumer’s Guide to Regulatory Impact Analysis


Ten Tips for Being an Informed Policymaker

February 02, 2017

By Susan Dudley, Richard Belzer, Glenn Blomquist, Timothy Brennan, Christopher Carrigan, Joseph Cordes, Louis A. Cox, Arthur Fraas, John Graham, George Gray, James Hammitt, Kerry Krutilla, Peter Linquiti, Randall Lutter, Brian Mannix, Stuart Shapiro, Anne Smith, W. Kip Viscusi & Richard Zerbe

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Regulatory impact analysis (RIA) weighs the benefits of regulatory proposals against the burdens they impose. Even regulatory policies that are ultimately decided on political, legal, ethical, or other grounds will benefit from the structured evaluation of tradeoffs and alternatives that a good RIA provides.
Although RIAs are a core feature of regulatory practice in the United States and other countries (OECD, 2016) there is increasing concern that they are “used to justify decisions already made, rather than to inform those decisions” (Carrigan & Shapiro, 2016). RIAs often serve as legal documents, running hundreds or even thousands of pages, prepared by agencies in a defensive posture in anticipation of litigation. Observers argue that RIAs “often omit consideration of meaningful alternatives and are so detailed that they are practically indecipherable” (Carrigan & Shapiro, 2016).

U.S. regulatory agencies develop RIAs before issuing significant new regulations, and non-governmental interests may also present their own analyses of how different policies will affect outcomes. Dense or complex RIAs can be challenging for policy officials and interested parties to comprehend and interpret, making it difficult to distinguish facts from conjecture and to understand the likely consequences of alternative policy choices (Ellig & Abdukadirov, 2015).

While numerous technical guidelines exist to aid development of RIAs (OMB, 2003; OMB 2010; OECD, 2008), none is geared toward non-specialist policymakers and interested stakeholders who will be reading RIAs as consumers. This guide attempts to fill that gap. It first reviews the purpose of RIA, and then offers policy makers and other consumers of RIAs 10 tips for asking informed questions when reviewing and interpreting them.

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