But from some administrative-law experts and OIRA-watchers, Mr. Sunstein earned praise. He brought "much-needed academic rigor to the position," says Eric Posner, a sometime co-author and a law professor at the University of Chicago, where Mr. Sunstein used to teach. In his reports and memoranda, his supporters say, he laid out a vigorous vision for how government could make itself more accessible and user-friendly, drawing on the latest social science.
In his most controversial case, in September 2011, Mr. Sunstein, at President Obama's direction, returned long-awaited new standards on safe levels of ozone to the Environmental Protection Agency for reconsideration. The president of the League of Conservation Voters told The New York Times the move was "the worst thing a Democratic president had ever done on our issues," environmentalists called the decision nakedly political, and Lisa P. Jackson, the EPA chairwoman, reportedly considered resigning. ...
One target of the critics is cost-benefit analysis itself, which environmentalists believe fails to capture much of what they value. Mr. Sunstein views it as a tool to cut through knee-jerk reactions—Regulations kill jobs! No, they save lives!—and move on to more-analytical terrain. ...
Some conservatives, for their part, have suggested that the agencies' cost-benefit estimates are rigged in favor of government intervention. "Neither of the competing dogmas can be supported by the evidence," he writes in Simpler, citing retrospective economic analysis of federal cost estimates that find some errors but not a pattern of errors.
- The EPA's own analysis of the ozone standards indicates that the net benefits are roughly zero.
- How do you know when benefit-cost analysis is doing a good job? When both sides of the issue are irritated about it.