The Durability of Regulatory Oversight

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and the durability of regulatory oversight in the United States
July 21, 2020

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The U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is responsible for reviewing executive branch agencies' draft proposed and final regulations, coordinating the federal government's regulatory agenda, approving government collections of information from the public, and developing and overseeing the implementation of government‐wide policies related to information policy, information quality, peer review, privacy, statistical policy, and international regulatory cooperation. While some of those functions are statutorily granted, others—notably those related to regulatory policy—derive from presidential executive orders. Since U.S. presidents can, and do, rescind their predecessors' executive orders with ease, it is striking that these regulatory oversight functions, and the economics‐based framework underlying them, have not changed significantly through six very different presidential transitions. This article reflects on OIRA's evolution over the almost 40 years since the Paperwork Reduction Act created it in 1980 to understand what has made it so durable. It finds that regardless of their philosophy, presidents need an entity like OIRA to address the principal‐agent problem they face in managing the disparate agencies within the executive branch. The OIRA career staff responsible for bringing coherence to regulatory policies across the government provide analytical expertise and institutional knowledge that complement the actions of political actors in the White House. The article concludes with recommendations for allowing OIRA's roles and practices to evolve while retaining the core functions that have received bipartisan support.