OIRA Nominee's Disappearing Affiliation with Industry Think Tank

by Rena Steinzor

See the UPDATE at the bottom of the page.

Last Thursday, President Obama named Howard Shelanski as his new nominee for Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). As of that evening, Shelanski was listed on the website of the industry-funded, fiercely anti-regulatory Mercatus Center as an "expert" in its Technology Policy Program. OIRA has long operated as a regulatory chokepoint, stalling and weakening health and environmental safeguards at the behest of industry groups, and as I've written, the protection of the public will require the next Administrator to work hard to transform OIRA's role. Although much research remains to be done on Shelanski's record, his association with Mercatus raised serious concerns about whether he could be the person to bring that fundamental change to OIRA. (In fact, it brought back memories of George W. Bush, who culled his second OIRA Administrator, Susan Dudley, from Mercatus's ranks.)

I pointed the Mercatus connection out in a blog the morning after his nomination. By Friday afternoon, without any explanation, Shelanski's name had been quietly removed from Mercatus' list of experts. (Here's Google's cached version (in pdf form) from April 11, 2013 showing Shelanski's name; here's the same page still available on the web as of this morning; and here's the Shelanski-less version of the page as it looks today on the Mercatus website.)

So, questions arise: Did Mercatus take his name off its list of scholars at Shelanski's request, or on their own initiative? Was Mercatus somehow mistaken about who its own scholars were? The answers to those questions, if we ever get them, will give us a better idea whether Mercatus somehow over-reached when it listed him as one of their scholars, or—what's more concerning—whether there was some relationship that Shelanski, Mercatus, or both now would rather hide from view.

UPDATE: A few hours after this was posted, Benjamin Goad of The Hill put these questions to Mercatus spokesperson Leigh Harrington, who said that Shelanski's name was incorrectly added to the Mercatus website's list of Technology Experts.  According to Goad's article, Harrington maintained that (quoting the article) "Shelanski should have been listed among the ranks of speakers who have participated in Mercatus programs, but was 'incorrectly categorized' as an expert. 'We fixed the error once it was pointed out to us,' Harrington said."

© 2016 The Center for Progressive Reform