OIRA's Administrator Leaving This Month

Cass Sunstein and the office he heads, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the White House Office of Management and Budget, have more to do with the enactment of federal regulations than any other participant in the process. This fact may seem arcane, but it is highly significant in the EH&S world, in congressional debates, and even in presidential politics.

As OIRA director throughout President Obama’s presidency, Sunstein has overseen a “lookback” process whereby federal agencies examined the usefulness of their existing regulations and were encouraged to eliminate unnecessary ones. While it has not seriously diminished the federal regulatory library so far, Sunstein said in a June 2012 speech that a small fraction of the agencies’ proposed changes will yield more than $10 billion in savings during the next five years.

OIRA also is the agency that reviews proposed final rules and decides whether to permit them to go forward. The OSHA crystalline silica standard is one pending regulation that has been under review for more than a year; there are currently about 145 rules from EPA, DOT, DOL, and other agencies under review, according to www.reginfo.gov.

His speech is the most recent one posted on the OIRA website and may be one of the last by Sunstein to appear there because OMB Acting Director Jeffrey Zients announced Aug. 2 that Sunstein will leave his post this month to rejoin the Harvard Law School as Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and director of the school’s new Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy.

“We are grateful to Cass for his years of public service and for his leadership and dedication in assisting the President in overseeing the nation's regulatory program,” Zients wrote in a post on the White House blog. “Among other things, his emphasis on transparency and on innovative, low-cost regulatory tools contributed to the Administration's Open Government Initiative; to numerous efforts to promote clear, simple disclosure to inform consumers and investors; and to creative reforms to increase public participation in the regulatory process and to promote accountability to the American public.”

Zients credited Cass for making the “lookback” successful initially, adding, “Because the lookback has been institutionalized, and made a regular feature of American government, far greater savings are expected over time. His leadership in promoting disciplined consideration of costs and benefits, and selection of the least costly alternative, helped generate, to date, well over $100 billion in net benefits.

“Cass has also played a leading role,” Zients continued, “in the Administration's Smart Disclosure initiative, designed to use modern technologies to better inform consumers; in promoting consideration of cumulative burdens of rules; in recent efforts to simplify our regulatory system and to reduce reporting burdens; and in implementing the recommendations of the President's Jobs Council. He has also participated in the design of numerous rules that are, among other things, saving lives on the highways by making vehicles safer and reducing distracted driving; dramatically increasing the fuel economy of the nation’s cars and trucks; protecting public health by reducing air pollution; making our food supply safer; and protecting against discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation.”

He said Boris Bershteyn, OMB’s general counsel, will serve as acting OIRA administrator.