Senators Aim to Loosen Grip of Politics on Regulatory Process

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By Cheryl Bolen

March 17 — Two senators have been searching for legislative changes to the regulatory process that would establish a more transparent and consistent foundation for rulemaking, insulating it from Washington politics, they said.

“Trying to find the common ground, where, as [Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)] and I have talked about before, whether you have a President Clinton next or a President Trump next or a President Cruz next, what do you want the priorities to be of how we do regulation,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) told the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis at the George Washington University. Both he and Heitkamp, the chairman and the ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, spoke at the event.

There should be a set of standards that all Americans can say, no matter who is in the White House, this is how regulations should be created, Lankford said. “So we're working to try to find, where is that common ground,” he said.

Critics Abound

Common ground is difficult to find and critics emerge when changes are proposed, Lankford said. But at the end of the day, “we have to actually do this,” he said.

There are individual bills and a package of proposals that Lankford said he and Heitkamp are trying to build coalitions around.

“But before the package was even released, there was an editorial in a major newspaper accusing the two of them of trying to systematically dismantle both financial and environmental rules, Heitkamp said.

She cautioned the audience of regulators and scholars not to underestimate the political challenge involved. It may seem that these issues are ones that fly under the radar and that no one is paying attention, she said.

“Trust me, everybody is paying attention to this,” Heitkamp said. “Because it's all about where the power lies,” she said.

Will Keep At It

The lack of process and the lack of appreciation for building a more permanent process has resulted in a lot of crumbling structures, Heitkamp said.

“So we're going to keep at it,” Heitkamp said. “We're going to keep looking at this level and then keep looking individually at individual regulatory levels,” she said.

Lankford said there has been cooperation in their efforts from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), and from the House.

If the House and Senate, OIRA and OMB will engage, acknowledge the problems and work to resolve them, a lot can be done, Lankford said. “If any one of those walks away, it's status quo,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at