Regardless of what happens in November, we are guaranteed to have a much more functional federal government in the near future. That’s because Cass Sunstein is taking his boot off the neck of the federal regulatory state and leaving government. I couldn’t be happier.
Cass Sunstein, a top adviser to President Obama who functions as a gatekeeper on federal regulations, is leaving the White House to return to Harvard Law School.
Obama heralded Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, “for his friendship and for his years of exceptional service.” [...]
A specialist in administrative law and regulatory policy, Sunstein worked as a “regulatory czar” in the White House, looking to streamline government policies.
Sunstein drew a fair amount of controversy from both the left and the right. His departure will bring a sigh of relief to some environmental and public health advocates, who alleged Sunstein was too willing to bend an ear to oil companies and other industries seeking to weaken regulations. And other liberals objected to his libertarian-leaning behavioral economics theories.
In the interest of balance, the story also says that Glenn Beck yapped about Sunstein one time. But if I were to consider the rantings of a lunatic and the very real damage that Sunstein did to the regulatory state, I know where I would come down as far as my objections. I’ve chronicled Sunstein and OIRA before. Here’s a representative sample:
Industry dominates the OIRA meetings process. OIRA makes no effort to balance its meeting schedule by hearing from even a rough equivalence of organizations supporting protective regulations. In only 16 percent of reviews involving meetings did OIRA meet with organizations from across the spectrum of interested groups, while in 73 percent OIRA met only with industry representatives. These meetings come on top of an already exhaustive public process run by the agencies themselves, involving numerous meetings before a rule proposal is even crafted, multiple rounds of public comments that give a wide range of interest groups the opportunity to file thousands of pages of advice, public hearings across the country, thousands of hours of staff work invested in reviewing the comments and either accepting or rebutting the information they contain, and — last but not least — court review for many major rules [...]
OIRA routinely misses deadlines, stalling public health and safety protections. By executive order, OIRA has 90 days to review a rule, plus a possible 30-day extension. Of the 501 completed reviews in which outside parties lobbied OIRA, 59 (12 percent) lasted longer than 120 days and 22 extended beyond 180 days (about six months).
OIRA ignores public disclosure requirements. OIRA is required by executive order to make available “all documents exchanged between OIRA and the agency during the review by OIRA,” and agencies are required to “identify for the public those changes in the regulatory action that were made at the suggestion or recommendation of OIRA.” OIRA never follows those requirements, and the agencies — with the notable exception of the EPA in limited circumstances — don’t either.
There has been almost nobody over the past four years who has been as destructive as Cass Sunstein, with massive implications for the environment, food safety and public health. The Administration centralized regulatory policymaking in the White House under OIRA, and the results were catastrophic.
The Center for Progressive Reform has been bird-dogging Sunstein for some time, and they offered this take:
Cass Sunstein brought impressive credentials and a personal relationship with the President to his job as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. But in the final analysis, Sunstein has continued the Bush Administration’s tradition of using the office to block needed health and safety protections disliked by big business and political contributors. Worse, the narrative that Sunstein helped craft about the impact of regulations on American life — that regulatory safeguards are fundamentally suspect — was discordant with the rest of the President’s agenda and the arguments he makes for his reelection.
Sunstein’s departure is an opportunity for the Administration to reset its regulatory policy and embrace public health and safety protections that have long been stalled in the White House.
CPR counsels that the President shouldn’t nominate a replacement in the crucible of the Presidential campaign, and he probably won’t. So I don’t know that I’d say things will automatically get better in the absence of Sunstein. But I do know that he was a malignant tumor on the body politic, and that if his departure has any downside, it’s that he’ll return to molding young minds at Harvard.
Of course, the Hill article offers this ominous take: Sunstein would be on the short list of Supreme Court replacements, if any came up. My response to that is: be afraid.