Policy ForumSCI POLICY

Looking backward to move regulations forward

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Science  31 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6332, pp. 1375-1376
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaj1469

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Research-based evidence is critical for understanding and improving the impact of government regulation on society. Positions promoted by the Trump Administration question the effectiveness of many regulations, making their rigorous analysis all the more critical. Yet such research is relatively rare, especially for environmental rules, the most costly type of federal regulation in the United States (1). The principal source of information on costs, benefits, and distributional consequences of major regulations are ex ante studies such as regulatory impact analyses (RIAs) routinely conducted on proposed rules by U.S. federal agencies. Despite their rigor and complexity, RIAs are developed at “the point when the least is known and any analysis must rest on many unverifiable and potentially controversial assumptions” (2). By contrast, retrospective analysis can reaffirm (or question) the effectiveness of rules and the accuracy of RIAs and thereby aid the rational allocation of societal resources. Despite this advantage, many obstacles prevent widespread development of such ex post analyses. We discuss approaches to ex post analysis and suggest steps to broaden its use.