OMB nominee vows to use 'inclusive' approach to regulations

Cass Sunstein, Obama's choice to lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said law -- not dispassionate numbers-crunching -- will guide decisionmaking.

The White House's choice to be the federal "regulatory czar" sought to assure lawmakers on Tuesday he will not use dispassionate cost-benefit analysis of government programs as an "arithmetic straitjacket" to restrict regulators and stymie the intent of legislators.

Cass Sunstein, whom President Obama picked to be the director of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that his guiding force will be the rule of law -- not cold-hearted numbers-crunching -- in his role as the top evaluator of government regulations.

Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and longtime friend of Obama, has come under fire from critics of cost-benefit analysis, who say this approach waters down regulations that might be costly to businesses and government but could vastly improve hard-to-measure outcomes like the quality of life.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., asked Sunstein to differentiate his views from those of former OIRA Administrator John Graham, a lightning rod for controversy when he served in the Bush administration. Graham's nomination to the post in 2001 was vigorously contested by environmental, health and civil rights activists, who said Graham, founder of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, relied too heavily on ham-handed formulas that placed dollar values on human life.

Sunstein promised on Tuesday that if confirmed, his decision-making process will be "inclusive and humanized" and take ethical considerations into account. Rena Steinzor, an environmental lawyer and the president of the Center for Progressive Reform, an organization that has been critical of cost-benefit analysis, called Sunstein's testimony "very heartening." But she added, "the proof will be in the pudding."