This morning I have an article on National Review Online detailing some of the outlandisha and erroneous attacks made against Susan Dudley, President Bush's nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the White House Office of Management and Budget. Like her predecessor, John Graham, Dudley is being caricatured and subjected to false charges in an effort to paint her as an extremist unworthy of confirmation. As I note, some of the attacks are plainly false, and yet have been repeated uncritically throughout the blogosphere. I should also note that I know Susan well, and consider her a friend.
The serious and substantive arguments made against Susan are not so much about her nomination, as they are about the Bush Administration's approach to regulatory policy. The White House picked Susan Dudley because it believes she will carry forward the adminsitration's approach to regulatory review, and continue the policies of her predecessor. This means careful analytic review of agency regulatory proposals in an effort to prevent unnecessary reuglatory overreach. It also means a sincere effort to ensure that regulatory and other administrative measures are cost-effective, and maximize the potential pulbic benefits of regulatory interventions. Many object to this "conservative" appraoch to regulation, but it is the approach this administration will adopt whether or not Susan is ever confirmed.
Adminsitrator of OIRA is clearly an important White House perch. OIRA reviews reuglatory proposals emanating from throughout the executive branch, and can force agencies to redraft regulatory proposals where they are inconsistent with prevailing executive orders and OIRA requirements. This is a big deal, but the role of OIRA should not be overstated. OIRA does not have the authority to trump statutes. So, where a statutory requirement conflicts with OIRA policy, the statutory requirment will preveail — even if that will result in the issuance of a regulation that the administration would otherwise oppose. The OIRA Administrator may be a "Regulatory Czar" (or in this case "Regulatory Czarina,"), but is far from all powerful.
In my view, Susan merits confirmation because she is clearly qualified for the position. She is a thoughtful economic analyst with a wide range of relevant experience — in federal regulatory agencies, in the private sector, in non-profits, and even at OIRA. As head of the regulatory studies program at the Mercatus Center, she has been quite influential in the development of regulatory proposals, submitting regular comments to OIRA. This influence is not lost on her critics, but it is also why the Washington Post said Dudley was John Graham's natural successor at OIRA. I also believe, as I have said before, that a President should receive significant deference in his selection of White House personnnel, so the burden on those opposing Susan's confirmation should be quite high. We shall see whether the Senate adopts this approach.
UPDATE: The Federal Times has more on the Dudley nomination:
Dudley's name is already well known to agency regulators. The Mercatus Center analyzes regulations while they are being written, suggesting changes that will minimize the cost to individuals and businesses complying with a regulation.
One EPA regulator said that when he and his colleagues know that Mercatus is looking at a regulation, they pay special attention to the costs of compliance.
"To some extent it's something we should do already, but it does make writing the regulation more difficult," said the regulator, who asked to remain anonymous. Because of Dudley's analysis of regulations' impact on the public, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., promised the nomination would receive his "most stringent scrutiny." He said Dudley's questioning of the economic justification of regulations might conflict with OIRA's role reviewing regulations.
OIRA's "protective role, especially when applied to the environment or the health and safety of consumers and workers, is worthy of a vigorous defense," Lieberman said. Nobel prize-winning economist Vernon Smith wrote a letter to Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, praising Dudley's qualifications.
"She approaches public policy questions in a principled and objective manner, with no goal other than to understand and pursue the public interest," he wrote in the July 31 letter. Regulatory advocates said Dudley's prolific writing should give them ammunition to fight her nomination. But economist Bruce Yandle said senators considering her nomination should keep in mind the inherent controversy that comes with the job.
"The person heading OIRA sits in a hot seat, generally disappointing special interest groups on all sides of a regulatory debate," he said.