Progressives see red flags in regulatory official on Biden transition team
Progressives are raising objections to the Biden team’s pick for overseeing the transition at a key regulatory agency in the White House, arguing the official has been too sympathetic toward President Trump’s deregulatory efforts.
Bridget C.E. Dooling, a research professor at George Washington University, has been tapped to help with the agency review team at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which reviews all executive branch regulations before they can be enacted.
Critics say they’re concerned with Dooling’s prominent role given that the center where she works, George Washington’s Regulatory Studies Center, has received funding from both the Charles Koch Foundation and ExxonMobil and has long been viewed as conservative-leaning.
The center is run by Susan Dudley, who led the OIRA during part of the George W. Bush administration, and its scholars have offered sympathetic analysis for some of Trump’s regulatory rollbacks.
“It’s just kind of surprising to see a Democrat reach out to someone in charge of reviewing OIRA whose work in this space is funded by the Koch network, which is so opposed to the regulation of corporate America,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project, a progressive group.
“You would expect a Koch-funded person to be conducting an OIRA agency view in the Trump administration — that wouldn’t be surprising — but this is supposed to be a transition, a change,” he added.
When reached for comment, Dooling referred questions to the Biden transition team.
The transition team defended Dooling’s role among the many individuals assisting the incoming administration.
“Over 500 policy experts serve on the Biden-Harris Transition agency review teams to ensure the policy goals of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are met. Bridget Dooling has decades of experience, is well-respected in her field and like all members of the transition, has values that align with President-elect Biden’s,” the transition team said in a statement.
Dooling comes to the transition team with more than a decade’s worth of experience at the OIRA, starting with the George W. Bush administration and ending in the early days of the Trump administration.
In the past few years at the Regulatory Studies Center, she’s reviewed a number of Trump’s regulatory directives, at times suggesting how they could be improved for implementation purposes.
When Trump issued his order to strike down two regulations for every new one implemented, Dooling co-authored a report that included 10 recommendations for making the order stronger.
That did not sit well with progressives who expected members of the regulatory community to unequivocally condemn Trump’s order.
The order, one of Trump’s first actions upon taking office, was embraced by the right — kicking off four years of deregulation. But for critics, it was seen as an arbitrary target imposed by a president with little regard for what rules and regulations might get eliminated in the process.
“She’s basically an apologist for it. She’s written about how it could be improved but she never said it’s been a bad idea. She said it could be improved, but never said categorically it’s a bad idea and should be gotten rid of,” said James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform.
“I would expect from Biden there should be a litmus test on that executive order, and if you’re not categorically opposed to that executive order you shouldn’t be allowed in the parking lot of OIRA,” Goodwin added.
Dooling’s colleagues say the criticism from the left is unwarranted.
“I do not see Bridget’s affiliation with the Regulatory Studies Center as evidence of a conservative bias,” said Stuart Shapiro, a regulatory studies professor at Rutgers University and an affiliated scholar with the GW center.
Shapiro, who worked at the OIRA before Dooling and considers himself a progressive, said she is smart and qualified.
He added that the Regulatory Studies Center is always willing “to consider views across the political spectrum, and they always invite Democrats to their panels.”
Progressives are eager to see the Biden administration reform the OIRA, an agency they view as a frequent roadblock to implementing ambitious regulations.
But Biden’s eventual pick to lead the agency will need to be confirmed by the Senate, and Republicans are in a strong position to retain control of the chamber next year. That would make it harder for Biden to pick someone favored by progressives.
One of the main concerns among progressives is that the OIRA, even under Biden, could hamstring regulatory efforts with its reviews of policies crafted by technical experts at other agencies, potentially delaying implementation of some regulations.
“Not everyone who has interest in an agency rule should be able to delay or weaken or undo that rule,” said Lisa Heinzerling, an environmental and administrative law professor at Georgetown University.
Dooling has long backed the use of cost-benefit analyses to ground regulations and assess their worth, an approach that gained favor under the Reagan administration.
It’s also been a useful tool for the Trump administration, which has reduced how it weighs the costs of carbon pollution and the benefits of fighting climate change on a global scale, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now seeking to codify some of those changes.
But cost-benefit analyses haven’t always helped the Trump administration. In some cases, they’ve shown that regulatory efforts like rolling back vehicle mileage rules will cost more than they save — a finding likely to be brought up in court challenges.
If EPA’s cost-benefit rules are finalized, it could create a significant hurdle for future administrations by making it tougher to implement regulations that limit pollution. That would be problematic for Biden, who wants to put the U.S. on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 as part of his climate plan.
“Cost-benefit analysis as performed by the government disfavors actions on problems that extend into the future, so climate change would be the premier example,” said Heinzerling.
For progressives, Dooling’s pick signals that many of the OIRA practices from previous administrations are likely to continue under Biden.
“If you were interested in making a dramatic change at OIRA, you probably wouldn’t choose someone who has had a quite traditional role at OIRA,” Heinzerling said.
For Goodwin, that represents a significant roadblock.
“I’ve always had reservations about how the Biden administration would address regulation, and I’m left reading the tea leaves as they come out, and every tea leaf I see, like Bridget Dooling’s name coming out, is indicative that things are not going to be great, and that is going to be a huge missed opportunity,” Goodwin said.
Shapiro countered that the OIRA will continue to carry out its duties under Biden, much like it has during previous administrations.
“OIRA has had a regulatory review function under six presidents now of both parties. It is unrealistic to expect that that regulatory review function will disappear under a Biden administration,” he said.
“Therefore we should expect a transition team member to figure out how to make OIRA work as effectively as possible rather than eliminate that regulatory review function.”