The Next Regulatory Czar
To accomplish his promised overhaul of the U.S. regulatory system, President Trump will need the help of a small office that most people outside of Washington have never heard of. The Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA, pronounced Oh-Eye-Ruh), established in 1980, oversees the regulatory, information collection, and statistical activities of federal executive branch agencies. Like its budget counterparts in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), it provides the president with a tool to check agencies’ natural proclivity to want more (whether it’s more budget resources or more regulatory authority).
As President Trump prepares to announce his nominee to be OIRA administrator, this Regulatory Insight provides an inside look at the functions of this important office, its origins and procedures, and why some (including this author) say the job of OIRA administrator is the best job in Washington.
The Administrator of the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (a.k.a. the “Regulatory Czar”) is the ultimate policy wonk. The Office reviews all manner of regulations from executive branch agencies, in which the important decisions are often down in the weeds. There is no overall budget number or meaningful summary statistic that simplifies the task.
Although it is stretched thin, OIRA’s career staff has the expertise to penetrate the dense language of regulation and identify important decisions. Unlike their counterparts on the budget side of OMB, however, OIRA staff are not working on an annual cycle. Each regulation is running on its own clock, and some of them have statutory or judicial deadlines that demand immediate attention. A presidential transition is a particularly active time, as a new administration reviews pending or not-quite-final decisions from the outgoing administration. Especially given President Trump’s stated deregulatory ambitions, it is urgent for the new administration to engage with OIRA.
One obstacle to pursuing the president’s regulatory policies is that the OIRA administrator is a Senate-confirmed position, and confirmation often takes months. President Trump is expected to nominate an administrator soon. Typically, nominees have been people with strong academic or professional credentials in economics and/or administrative law. This is important not only for effectively managing the OIRA staff and dealing with agency personnel; it also seems to help facilitate the Senate confirmation process. Indeed, former OIRA administrators from both parties (with the exception of judges, for ethical reasons), have historically been effective in helping to persuade the Senate to confirm well-qualified nominees.