Senate Committee Continues Review of Regulatory Reform Bills

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Two former OIRA Administrators testify at hearing.

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The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing on regulatory reform legislation Wednesday, debating—as Chair Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) put it—“not whether to regulate, but how best to regulate.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) described two bills he has proposed that attempt to reduce regulatory capture. The first, the Regulatory Capture Prevention Act, would create a new executive office, the Office of Regulatory Integrity, to “investigate and report on the regulatory capture wherever it may appear.”   Sen. Whitehouse’s second bill, the Regulatory Information Reporting Act, would require agencies to publish online the name and affiliation of parties that comment on regulations, whether these parties had an effect on the rulemaking, and whether the parties represented economic, non-economic, or citizen interests.

The Committee also heard from several experts, including former Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrators Sally Katzen and Susan E. Dudley.

Katzen discussed the costs of reform, emphasizing that because all agency rules are not the same, “serious implications” exist for any “across-the-board, one-size-fits-all reform initiatives.” She continued to argue against codification of cost-benefit analysis requirements.  Katzen noted that Congress “should rationalize” current procedural and analytical requirements imposed on federal agencies before adding further requirements that could “lead to paralysis by analysis or due process to due death.”

Dudley’s testimony addressed how Congress could take advantage of the current public focus on regulation as an opportunity to effect bipartisan regulatory reform.  Congress, according to Dudley, should pass regulatory reform legislation that captures “the broad philosophy and principles” of Executive Order 12866 so that regulations are based on “the identification of a compelling public need, an objective review of alternatives, and an understanding of the distributional impacts of different approaches.”

The National Federation of Independent Business was represented at the hearing by Karen Harned, who counseled against over-regulation of small businesses.  Not only did she argue for codification of Executive Order 13563 to “strengthen the cost benefit review or regulation,” but she also encouraged regulatory agencies to include the indirect costs of regulation on small businesses in such analyses.

David Goldston, Director of Government Affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, suggested that “the public is unlikely to gain” much from the reform proposals that will also impose significant administrative costs.  In particular, he criticized the REINS Act, which he claimed would “radically reposition Congress” as the “arbiter of each and every regulatory call.” Even the less “radical” proposals, according to Goldston, would make it “harder for agencies to carry out their legislative mandates.”

This hearing was the second one held by the Committee to review specific legislative reform proposals to improve the regulatory process.  The earlier hearing featured testimony from a number of Senators and current OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein.