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Free Market Champion Tapped to Head Regulatory Office

by Megan Tady

Aug. 8, 2006 – Environmentalists and government watchdogs are condemning the president’s nomination to head an "obscure but powerful" regulatory office, saying Bush’s pick would prioritize corporate interests over protecting the public.

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Last week, the Bush administration nominated Susan Dudley to direct the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which can amend, delay or reject regulations coming out of government agencies.

Part of the Office of Management and Budget, OIRA oversees standards produced by bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It also helps set regulatory policy, from workplace safety to air quality.

From 2003 to 2006, Dudley was the director of the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which purportedly examines regulations from the "point of view of the public interest." The Mercatus website, however, also says the center is focused on how "market-oriented systems enable human well being."

From 1991 to 1998, Dudley was a consultant at the firm Economists Incorporated, which deals on behalf of corporations in antitrust and commercial litigation, and regulatory matters. The firm’s clients include Exxon Mobil, Ford Motors and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

Critics say Dudley’s record of opposing public-health protections will do nothing to improve OIRA’s already-established track record of serving industry interests.

Critics say Dudley’s record of opposing public-health protections will do nothing to improve OIRA’s already-established track record of serving industry interests.

"Putting her in this office would be like naming Jack Abramoff the head of the White House ethics office," Frank O’Donnell, director of the non-profit group Clean Air Watch, told The NewStandard.

O’Donnell is concerned that if appointed, Dudley will thwart upcoming environmental regulations, such as national health standards on smog and standards for particle soot in the air.

OIRA can reject draft regulations if it deems they do not comply with rulemaking principles mandated by a 1993 Executive Order. The principles require agencies to consider alternatives to the rulemaking, and analyze the rule’s effects on society. If OIRA decides these principles were not met, the Office can send the regulation back to the agency, where, according to OIRA, they "may, and frequently do, conduct further work on the draft."

Dudley has already publicly opposed tougher standards on smog. In response to the EPA’s draft regulation for air quality in 1997, Dudley wrote an article published by Mercatus that said that non-regulatory approaches, such as public-health advisories, would address health concerns better than increased pollution standards."

Two years later, Dudley opposed the EPA’s proposal to reduce vehicle emissions and sulfur content in gasoline, saying the Agency had not determined a "national need for vehicle standards."

"Putting her in this office would be like naming Jack Abramoff the head of the White House ethics office."

While Dudley would not agree to an interview with The NewStandard, Carrie Conko, director of communications at Mercatus, said that Dudley has simply ensured that "regulation accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish in the most-effective way possible." Of Dudley’s pro-corporate background, Conko said, "Our independence on research policy strictly prohibits funding from influencing our work."

In 2003 and 2004, however, the Mercatus Center received $40,000 donations each year from Exxon Mobil. According to the Center, 14 percent of its funding comes directly from corporations.

Public Citizen, a government watchdog, said Dudley’s record makes her "unfit" for the post at OIRA. "Throughout her career, Dudley has consistently fought against government safeguards and advocated a radical hands-off approach to regulating corporations," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook in a press release last week.

Also published by the Mercatus Center, Dudley wrote an article in 1998 arguing against mandatory airbags in cars, preferring instead that consumers "make their own personal risk tradeoff decisions" about airbags. In 2001, Dudley’s written response to the EPA contested stronger regulations for arsenic in drinking water, arguing that communities may want to spend their money on protecting against bio-terrorist threats and purchasing new emergency response equipment, rather than water-treatment equipment.

"Her hostility to rules designed to protect health and safety is no secret," O’Donnell said. "This is all on the public record."

Dudley would replace John Graham, whose nomination to head OIRA in 2001 was also widely contested by environmental, labor and public-health advocates. During Graham’s first six months in office, he rejected 17 regulations submitted to OIRA, including a federal proposal that would require automakers to install a device that alerts drivers if their tires are under-inflated.

O’Donnell said the nomination of Dudley is consistent with the Bush administration’s record of tapping nominees with anti-regulation, pro-corporate backgrounds.

"This is the classic example of the Bush administration putting the proverbial fox in front of the hen house," O’Donnell said.

It is unclear when, or if, the Senate will vote on Dudley’s nomination. In their press release, Public Citizen warned that the nomination was timed with the Senate’s schedule to adjourn, with the administration "perhaps planning a recess appointment."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Article originally appeared in the August 8, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Megan Tady is a staff journalist.

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