Repost from The Hill. For regulators, it’s not easy looking back

by Stuart Shapiro. Original source: The Hill 

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Despite the warning by Paige, President Obama issued Executive Order 13563 in 2011, directing regulatory agencies to engage in “retrospective review,” an assessment of old regulations to see if they were still working and whether they could be improved. Just this week, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made retrospective review a significant part of his regulatory agenda. The impulse behind retrospective review is a sound one. With businesses complaining about large regulatory burdens, and new issues such as climate change demanding policy solutions, trying to figure out if we can get rid of older rules that aren’t working is the right course of action.

But moving from theory to practice is tricky. On the positive side, agencies are now issuing regular reports on their retrospective reviews and there have been some success stories of burdens reduced and regulations modified. But there have also been significant challenges. One study that looked at the cost reductions associated with retrospective review found that costs associated with reviewed regulations have actually gone up. I’ve done work on retrospective reviews at the state level and found that the impact of the reviews have been minimal.

Why doesn’t retrospective review work as intended? In part, it may not be fair to ask this question as the requirement at the federal level is relatively new and Obama’s attempts at getting agencies to look back has been more successful than any of his predecessors. But the failures of previous presidents and the limitations to Obama’s efforts are not random. There are three categories of problems for retrospective review: psychological obstacles, practical obstacles and political obstacles.

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