Cheers to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Yesterday, it released a memorandum to federal agencies regarding standards for risk assessments. Agencies conduct such assessments to determine whether regulations are necessary to address a specific concern and to consider the potential costs and benefits of various regulatory approaches.
This memorandum offers a much needed response to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report issued earlier this year on a proposed OMB/OIRA bulletin covering the same topic. NAS suggested that those standards were unsound because they did not grant federal agencies enough leeway to regulate for precautionary reasons. As CEI noted last February, NAS’s approach presents a political shift among policymakers and even some scientists that favors of the precautionary principle. This principle abandons reliance on hard science for setting regulations. Instead, the precautionary principle allows bureaucrats to regulate in the absence of data demonstrating that regulations are warranted, basically granting bureaucrats arbitrary power. Because of the NAS critique, OIRA was forced to abandon its proposed risk bulletin.
But this memorandum shows that OIRA has not abandoned science and accountability. The memorandum calls for regulations based on hard science rather than regulatory whim. In particular, it urges agencies to make sure that regulations provide net benefits by employing reasonable assumptions about risks and considering the full range of impacts of proposed regulations. While the document is not legally binding, agencies should give it some weight because after all, their major regulations all must undergo regulatory review at OIRA before taking effect.