What does OIRA do?

by on December 27, 2012 at 6:39 am in Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is the new paper by Cass Sunstein:

Since its creation in 1980, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has become a well-established institution within the Executive Office of the President. This essay, based on public documents and the author’s experience as OIRA Administrator from 2009-2012, attempts to correct some pervasive misunderstandings and to describe OIRA’s actual role. Perhaps above all, OIRA operates as an information-aggregator. One of OIRA’s chief functions is to collect widely dispersed information – information that is held by those within the Executive Office of the President, relevant agencies and departments, state and local governments, and the public as a whole. Costs and benefits are important, and OIRA does focus on them (as do others within the Executive Branch, particularly the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers), above all in the case of economically significant rules. But for most rules, the analysis of costs and benefits is not the dominant issue in the OIRA process. Much of OIRA’s day-to-day work is devoted to helping agencies to work through interagency concerns, promoting the receipt of public comments on a wide range of issues and options (for proposed rules), ensuring discussion and consideration of relevant alternatives, promoting consideration of public comments (for final rules), and helping to ensure resolution of questions of law, including questions of administrative procedure, by engaging relevant lawyers in the executive branch. OIRA seeks to operate as a guardian of a well-functioning administrative process, and much of what it does is closely connected to that role.

Orange14 December 27, 2012 at 7:29 am

It’s really too bad that Prof Sunstein left OIRA to go back to academe. He was one of the best administrators in recent history; his only agenda was a common sense approach to regulation.

anon December 27, 2012 at 8:52 am

guardian of a well-functioning administrative process

Why does that remind me of the Death Star?

“Administrative process” should be less efficient and taxes (rather than deficits) should be higher so that citizens can get more pissed off and not lulled to sleep. Analogous to what is happening in police misconduct and criminal law now.

We want efficiency in voluntary transactions, not in tyranny.

Rich Berger December 27, 2012 at 9:08 am

Meaningless babble – does he have anything measureable to report? I don’t think helping bureaucrats coordinate their efforts is really beneficial to me.

libert December 27, 2012 at 9:43 pm

The paper Tyler linked to has precisely the answer to your question. I suggest you click on it. He reports $91 billion in net benefits (benefits minus costs) due to OIRA’s rules from 2009-2011 alone.

Alex Godofsky December 27, 2012 at 9:36 am

I feel no more informed after reading that than before. Was that the intended result? It is sometimes impossible to tell if Tyler is being sarcastic.

RPLong December 27, 2012 at 9:41 am


Ray Lopez December 27, 2012 at 9:56 am

Here in Greece, where bureaucracy was invented (“Byzantine”), they have gone one better than OIRA. They have a bureaucracy called “KEP” whose sole function is to tell citizens which bureaucratic office does what for who–like an a Info or Help Desk. So you go to KEP, take a ticket (there’s always a huge waiting line), then after about 30 minutes to a hour of waiting* ask the bureaucrat which government office or offices can help you with your problem. KEP tells you and sends you on your way. It’s actually quite a convenience, as you can easily spend a whole day searching for the right office without KEP. And in Greece, kind of like the US IRS or your state DMV or post office, the government does not answer phones so you can forget about calling and letting your fingers do the walking. Get ready America–this is your future–all in the name of safety net, equality, fairness and (IMO) Keynesian economics. *In GRE, government offices open at 7 AM and close at 2 PM, so it pays to go early, when the wait is shorter.

Saturos December 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

“To OIRA: Good Luck.”
- Friedrich Hayek

Chuck Ross December 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

Sounds Big Brothery.

And yeah, the abstract is atrocious. Just tell us what OIRA does already.

Mario Rizzo December 27, 2012 at 11:23 am

How could anyone of intelligence do a job like that described above for more than a month or two without, at the very least, getting bored and depressed? I just don’t get it.

Peter Sperry December 27, 2012 at 11:57 am

“But for most rules, the analysis of costs and benefits is not the dominant issue in the OIRA process.”

Did anyone over there read the organic legislation establishing their office??? Because if this statement is accurate, OIRA is ignoring the primary purpose for which it was created.

AT_Money December 27, 2012 at 11:42 pm

The comments here are disappointing. To the extent that we have a bureaucracy (we do), we want it to function well and intelligently. We want it to make efficient choices and we want someone keeping an eye on it. That’s a role that OIRA partly fulfills. If we were to set up some other government that did not need a bureaucracy to regulate too-big-to-fail banks, negative-externality-producing polluters, and various other (admittedly, partly government-created) bad actors, we would not need to make it efficient. But given that these institutions and the bureaucracy that regulates them is not going anywhere, this is a good thing.

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