This op-ed was originally published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In the midst of this long dark winter, it's heartening to see the Biden administration lay out a bold agenda for a more secure, fair, and sustainable future. Holding the Biden administration to its promise to reform the regulatory process to "ensure swift and effective federal action" to "improve the lives of the American people" is a crucial part of that effort. From her perch on a key congressional committee with oversight over agencies and the rulemaking process, the Delaware Valley's own Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon is well-positioned to do just that.
While not on most people's radar, the system of centralized regulatory review poses a potentially significant obstacle to President Joe Biden's ambitious agenda. Originally created by President Ronald Reagan, this process functions as the bureaucratic instantiation of the "job-killing regulations" myth that Reagan so successfully infused into the American political conversation and that politicians across the political spectrum parroted for decades afterward. The executive orders issued by both Democratic and Republican presidents to govern this process over the intervening decades reflected that false narrative—describing regulations as imposing burdens that need to be lifted and anointing economic efficiency as the singular goal of all government action.
Rather than improving regulations or making them more efficient, the regulatory review process has served instead to delay, weaken, or block them outright. It accomplishes this primarily through a hyper-formalized version of cost-benefit analysis that favors monetizable costs to industry over difficult-to-quantify benefits, such as clean air and safe drinking water, and obscures issues of distributional equity and fairness.
In one of his first executive orders, Biden wisely rejected that approach. Instead, he presented a new vision of government as a power to be "mobilized" to confront the pressing challenges of the day. Dispensing with old tropes about relieving burdens on industry, this new vision instead recognizes the indispensable role of regulations in "tackling national priorities," "promot[ing] the public interest," and "improv[ing] the lives of the American people."
To ensure agencies can realize this vision, Biden's order initiates a much-needed overhaul. It directs agencies and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to develop recommendations for remaking the regulatory review process with the aim of "ensur[ing] swift and effective federal action."