President Obama nominated Shelanski, currently director of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Economics, to serve in the regulatory post last week. Though not a Cabinet-level position, the OIRA administrator wields significant influence over scores of rules drafted within executive branch agencies.
Shelanski, whose expertise lies in antitrust and telecommunications issues, is seen an something of an unknown by groups involved in the debate over the Obama administration’s regulatory policies. One – the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) – raised concerns after discovering Shelanski’s name among the Mercatus Center’s stable of policy experts.
Based at George Mason University, the nonprofit research center is committed to finding solutions to “overcome the barriers preventing individuals from living free, prosperous, and peaceful lives.”
The group’s board of directors includes billionaire and noted critic of regulation Charles Koch. Another member of the board is Richard Fink, also a member of the board of directors at Koch Industries.
The Mercatus Center steadfastly maintains that its research is independent, peer-reviewed and nonpartisan. Even so, the organization has written extensively – and often critically – about the impact that federal regulations have on the nation’s economy.
Hence, Shelanski’s inclusion among the group’s “technology policy program experts” raised a red flag for CPR, a staunch defender of many federal regulations. The group was critical of the last OIRA administrator, Cass Sunstein, who was accused by some of holding back key rules.
“Although much research remains to be done on Shelanski's record, his association with Mercatus raised serious concerns about whether he could be the person to bring that fundamental change to OIRA,” said CPR president Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland.
However the Mercatus connection was reported, Shelanski’s name and photo were removed from the group’s website. The reason: they were never supposed to be there in the first place, Harrington said. She said Shelanski should have been listed among the ranks of speakers who have participated in Mercatus programs, but was “incorrectly categorized” as an expert.
“We fixed the error once it was pointed out to us,” Harrington said.