Epstein Critiques Sunstein's Work at Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

Reforms? What Reforms?
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
May 31, 2011

Both in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and a speech before the American Enterprise Institute, Cass Sunstein, the distinguished head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), offered a glowing account of President Barack Obama’s new effort to bring American regulatory processes squarely into the 21st century. The mission was to cull through existing regulations and to get rid of those that were inconsistent, overlapping, and outmoded in order to provide much needed relief for American businesses that have long protested the regulations in question.

To show how the Obama administration has made good on its promise, Sunstein indicates that regulatory agencies have simplified their own administrative processes, chiefly by removing onerous and redundant paperwork. Occasionally, he referred to a substantive decision, most notably one by the Environmental Protection Agency to rid gasoline stations of the need to maintain air pollution vapor recovery systems, systems that most cars are already equipped with. This will save an anticipated $67 million dollars annually.

That example illustrates in a nutshell the two major defects of the OIRA approach. First, it talks only about small matters whose significance is lost in the current environment that features higher taxes, massive new regulatory initiatives such as the Dodd-Frank financial reform, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, both of which will soon have their regulatory wheels turning at full blast. Second, it fails to take a real inventory of existing programs in ways that are credible to a public evermore skeptical of the government. Let me start with the second point first.

Richard A. Epstein