Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Use of Analysis in Regulatory Policy Making

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 8:50 AM
Foster I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Stuart Shapiro, Rutgers University
The topic of how policy analysis can be used to improve public decisions is as old as the field itself.  More than 50 years ago, Charles Lindblom criticized the use of “comprehensive-rational” analysis and argued instead for a form of incrementalism.  In the past half-century however an entire industry of policy analysis has sprouted up and many of us teach at schools that feed this industry.

                Nowhere has the role of analysis been more sharply debated than in regulatory policy.  Beginning in the late 1970s, regulatory agencies have been told to do better and more thorough analysis of their policy choices.  In part this is fed by a hope that such an analysis will lead to “better” decisions.  The requirements are also motivated by a desire to improve accountability of decision-makers in unelected agencies.  Some also argue that the requirements are simply meant to make it harder for these agencies to issue regulations which impose costs on businesses.

                Analysis takes various forms.  Agencies must do a cost-benefit analysis of their most economically significant regulations.  Courts have required agencies issuing regulations to protect public health to do risk assessments.  Regulations that are going to affect the environment must be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment.  Finally, there are myriad requirements for agencies to analyze the impact of their regulatory decisions on particular constituencies such as small businesses or state and local governments.

                While each of these requirements has been analyzed in varying degrees individually, no one has tried to look at them together to generate lessons regarding the use of analysis on policy-making.  In a book to be published in 2016, I look at each of these types of analysis and the role they have played in the regulatory process.  I attempt to generate lessons about the placement of analysis in the regulatory process. However I also acknowledge limits to the role that analysis can play in decision-making in a democratic society that come from political considerations, organizational structures, and legal frameworks.

                Each of these types of analysis has instances of successfully influencing policy decisions and cases when they have been ignored.  It is clear from my work that analysis (regardless of the type of analysis) has helped avoidance of clearly unwise decisions.  It is also clear from my study that there is a critical nexus between the effectiveness of analysis and its participatory components.  It is also clear that such factors as the political context of the policy decisions, the organizational placement of the analysts, and factors such as personality that are less predictable all play a role in determining the success or failure of analysis.