The Role of the Office on Information and Regulatory Affairs under debate at the US Parliament


The Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law at the House of Representative (Subcommittee 1) and the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management at the Senate (Subcommittee 2) held a hearing on 15 and 16 July, respectively. Both hearing addressed the role of the Office on Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The first was an oversight hearing on the activities of the OIRA, whereas the second concerned the review of the role of the OIRA in the regulatory process.

The hearing from Subcommittee 1 was divided in two witness panels. The first panel was composed by Hon. Howard Shelansky, administrator for the OIRA. Hon. Shelansky firstly stressed the importance of the role of OIRA in working with agencies to improve the review process and the quality of Government regulation, and then focused on the costs related with this activity. In Hon. Shelansky’s conclusions “regulation activities can bring great benefits to Americans but also carries costs. It is critical to ensure that Federal agencies base their regulatory actions on high-quality evidence and sound analysis. Beneficial regulation must remain consistent with the overarching goals of job creation, economic growth, and public safety”. The second panel included:

  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum, who highlighted three points. Namely: (1) Despite efforts from the administration to eliminate red tape, regulators continue to set new records, (2) full transparency of OIRA remains elusive; (3) there is more expansion than repeal of burdensome regulations.
  • Karen R. Harned Esq., Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, who stressed that “Small businesses are drowning in a sea of regulation. Small business owners are spending more and more time trying to understand new regulatory requirements, complying with them and filling out the paperwork that seems to accompany every new regulation”, and therefore called for a stronger commitment from OIRA to reduce administrative burden for the business sector.
  • Richard Williams, Director of Regulatory Studies of Program Mercatus Center, who underlined the failure of OIRA, mainly due to its limited resources for undertaking proper economic analysis. Dr. Williams called for a comprehensive reform to ensure that Congress has the necessary economic (and risk) information to effectively exercise regulatory oversight.
  • Noah M. Sachs Director, Robert R. Merhige Jr. Center for Environmental Studies at the University of Richmond School of Law, who underlined three points. First, regulations have benefited US greatly, with benefits that far exceed costs; second, many agencies are not carrying out their statutory missions in a timely and effective manner, which should be of great concern to Congress; third, OIRA has amassed too much power over the regulatory process and contributes to the delays in needed and effective regulation.

In the second hearing, the Subcommittee 2 explored ways in which OIRA might leverage its role in the federal rulemaking process to improve certain agency regulatory actions and facilitate greater transparency.  In addition, the Subcommittee encouraged OIRA to take measures responsive to concerns about agency avoidance of OIRA review. The hearing included two members statements (addressing very general remarks on OIRA’s activity) and a testimony from Hon. Howard Shelanski (concerned with the same points addressed in the testimony for Subcommittee 1).

(Gianluca Sgueo)