What can the efforts of a single former OIRA official teach about making broad institutional changes?
The most powerful, influential, and creative people in any society are its entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial endeavors span every field of human enterprise: commerce, academia, the arts, and, yes, even the career civil service.
The power of civil service entrepreneurship was beautifully illustrated in a recent book by Ken Godwin, Scott Ainsworth and Erik Godwin, Lobbying and Policymaking, which shows how policy change depends on entrepreneurship, whether from inside or outside of government.
In a recent article, Jim Tozzi, a former official at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), provides an accounting of the events during the Johnson through Carter Administrations that resulted in the founding of OIRA in 1980, a successful entrepreneurship undertaken from within the civil service. As it happens, Tozzi is also featured in the Godwin et al. book — but in its discussion of the Data Quality Act (“DQA”) of 2001, an example of civil service entrepreneurship undertaken from outside the government.
Whether entrepreneurship takes place inside or outside of government, Tozzi’s article and his work on the DQA provide exceptional support for Godwin’s finding that the “entrepreneur has extensive knowledge not only of the issue but also of the policy process.”
Godwin et al. provide new policymaking insights through their analysis of the DQA. Of particular note, they highlight functional differences – in scope, strategies, and funding – between how ordinary lobbyists and policy entrepreneurs approach the policy process.
With respect to scope, the authors note that lobbyists typically focus “on obtaining goods” for their clients, while policy entrepreneurs often choose a more expansive canvas for their work. Entrepreneurial audacity was on display with the DQA, which Godwin et al. describe as “a radical change in regulatory policymaking” and “one of the most significant regulatory reforms over the past twenty-five years.” They say the DQA “changed the balance of power” in regulatory circles.
That’s typical of what Godwin et al. refer to as policy entrepreneurs’ audacious aspirations: “most successful policy entrepreneurs create an institutional change that will shape future policy decisions.” Their case study of the DQA provides insights into the advantages of policy actors adopting a long-term strategic perspective versus pursuing results-now tactical targeting of limited goals.
Given the broad applicability of the DQA, it’s not surprising that one of the most notable DQA victories was initiated by an environmental organization. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) used the DQA to change the