As expected, Cass Sunstein's nomination for Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) was approved Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) alone voted against confirmation (we’re guessing his vote was not motivated by concerns over Sunstein’s past support for cost-benefit analysis and strengthening the institution of centralized regulatory review.) Sunstein is expected to be approved by the full Senate soon.
What now? In his confirmation hearing, Sunstein pledged he'd use underlying statutory standards to guide regulatory decision-making, and illustrated the point by acknowledging that some statutes do not allow agencies to take costs into account at all, such as the provisions of the Clean Air Act that direct EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards. He said the agencies, not OIRA, must play the primary role in making regulatory decisions.
Sunstein also promised that he would not allow the exercise of regulatory review to put regulation in an "arithmetic straightjacket." He said that he believed that cost-benefit analysis should be "inclusive" and "humanized" — that it should include the consideration of "soft variables" like moral values and distributional concerns.
These weren't the most ground-breaking promises, but they're important — a starting point. Soon we'll see how Administrator Sunstein is able to live up to them.