Retrospective Review and better rules to improve policy outputs: a mainstay for the Obama Administration


Osservatorio AIR has often drawn attention to the growing importance of retrospective review among US federal offices, thanks to the revived attention given by the Obama administration to such an instrument. Nonetheless, we have been reporting some difficulties and delays Agencies have faced towards effective implementation, although some relevant efforts have been made from the Agencies themselves and from the federal administration.

Howard Shelansky, the current Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), has recently taken stock of the progress to date, introducing and commenting the list of the Retrospective Review Plans released by all the federal Agencies and Departments, which can be viewed and downloaded at this link (the preliminary plans and their February 2015 updates are also available, complying with the “fishbowl transparent administration” principle). In accordance with E.O. 13653, Retrospective review plans are updated on a biennial basis.

Shelansky, on behalf of the Obama administration, expresses satisfaction with the progress made so far even if further steps need to be done before the end of the mandate. For example, as regards stakeholders’ engagement, Agencies are striving to improve consultations and others such tools to involve citizens in retrospective methodologies. The Department of Labor (DOL), for example, launched an interactive “IdeaScale” website to seek public input on developing its preliminary retrospective review plan.  This initiative allowed individuals to submit their own recommendations for retrospective review and to vote on others.

OIRA’s main concerns involve retrospective plans’ effectiveness and their impacts on red tape and redundant regulation. To that end, the Obama administration has spotted four “key areas” with further goals to be pursued. Namely:

  • Reducing regulatory and compliance burdens for state and local government;
  • Reducing regulatory burden for industry, with a focus on flexibility for small and new businesses;
  • Regulatory modernization;
  • Identifying areas with regulatory gaps or where regulations need to be strengthened.

It is worth highlighting that the focus of the US government on retrospective analysis bears a resemblance to the European Commission’s “Regulatory and Fitness Performance Programme”, aimed at cutting red tape as well as improving the quality of regulation, with a focus on small businesses and their peculiar regulatory needs, further proving that better regulation cannot be taken as a mere compliance, rather as a tool to sustain recovery from the economic crisis.

(Federica Cacciatore)