Research note. Lobbying, But Not Who You Think: Targeting the U.S. President’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

Research note by Simon F. Haeder

When Americans think about lobbying, they usually think about legislative lobbying.  Take, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), for instance. According the Center for Responsive Politics, the ACA was one of the most lobbied bills in Congress over the last decade with over 1,250 organizations registered on more than 5,000 issues.  Yet, missing from such legislative-centric accounts are the hundreds of groups that lobbied an obscure office in the White House to influence the regulations implementing the ACA: the President’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

In a forthcoming study in the American Political Science Review, we find that interest group lobbying at OIRA is associated with policy change during OIRA rule review.  Specifically, we theorize that when groups send a consistent message to OIRA officials, the lobbying is more impactful.

Why lobby OIRA? OIRA is charged with reviewing “significant” government agency regulations, including those issued by federal agencies, like the Department of Health and Human Services, before they are finalized as law. This Office is also authorized to return these proposals with “suggested policy changes” to the issuing agency, so that the agency can modify its rules to better accord with “Presidential priorities” and other goals.  Most close observers of the regulatory process think that agencies change the content of rules to reflect OIRA’s—and presumably the President’s—preferences.

Yet, beyond this supposition, we know surprisingly little about the actual policy impact, if any, of lobbying at OIRA.

Our study suggests just how pivotal this stage of regulatory policymaking may be.  The research focuses on all regulations reviewed by OIRA from January 2005 through June 2011. We find—using plagiarism software, similar to what a college professor might use to check for violations across student papers—that the (1) draft Final Rules that agencies submit to OIRA for review and (2) the Final Rules promulgated after OIRA’s “suggested changes” often differ on substantive grounds.  We also show that—while many rules receive no lobbying during OIRA review—for those that do, more interest group lobbying is associated with a greater degree of policy change during OIRA’s Final Rule review. We also demonstrate that when only business groups lobby, we are more likely to see rule change; however, the same is not true for public interest groups.

We conclude that existing media and scholarly accounts too often neglects the extent to which presidential control strategies—like OIRA review of agency regulations—may also contain points of entry for other types of political and policy considerations, including interest group influence.  Thus, while lobbying is ubiquitous in American politics, most media and scholarly accounts miss the significant shift that has occurred from statutory to regulatory policymaking since the 1960s. Our research suggests a clear need to expand the focus to also include the U.S. President’s OIRA review process for agency regulations.




Simon F. Haeder is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His teaching and research interests include the public policymaking process, regulatory politics, lobbying and interest group politics, and healthcare policy.