Working Paper

Changes in Analytical Perspectives across Administrations


The core analytical benefit-cost elements of Executive Order 12291 are widely seen as having been embraced by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Some critics argue, however, that this embrace is superficial and serves more as a cover for political decisions. To address this question, this paper examines the analytical priorities presented in the annual Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations over the period from 1997 to 2012. While there is general agreement across administrations on such broad issues as the importance of the benefit-cost analysis in providing a shared framework and discipline to the analytic process, we identified important differences in six areas: the oversight role of OMB, monetization of benefits, scope of costs considered, behavioral economics, intergenerational benefits, and the general equilibrium impacts of regulation. All are active and exciting issues in the current scholarly work on regulation. These cross-administration differences, though, appear to reflect a relatively modest shifting across political parties on issues where reasonable people might disagree, rather than major ideological swings in approach.