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CU troubled over administration’s nomination for administrator of the OIRA

Re: Susan Dudley’s nomination for OIRA administrator

October 30, 2006
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator:
On July 31, 2006, the Bush administration nominated Susan Dudley for administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). As administrator for OIRA, Dudley would wield considerable power over how our nation’s environmental, health, and safety laws are implemented. The administrator of OIRA plays an extremely powerful role in establishing regulatory safeguards for every government agency.
Consumers Union (CU), publisher of Consumer Reports, has a longstanding history of working to improve health and safety protections for consumers, and has worked to ensure that consumer protection laws are properly implemented and enforced. After carefully reviewing Ms. Dudley’s extensive record, we are deeply troubled by a number of her past statements and positions. For example,

  • Despite overwhelming public support for improved gas mileage, Dudley called a decision by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to impose a very modest increase in fuel economy standards for SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks – standards that had not been increased for years – the “Worst rule of 2003.’’ Dudley argued that NHTSA “continues to force vehicle manufacturers to achieve higher miles per gallon than the market would offer, or consumers would choose, in the absence of the regulation. Absurdly, its economic model shows large net benefits to consumers even if markets are assumed to operate perfectly, i.e., without counting any externalities. We know this must be false, because any regulatory constraint that forces consumers away from their preferred choices must have negative net benefits (i.e., make Americans worse off).”
  • In spite of deaths and injuries to children and short-statured women from air bags, and after a Congressional mandate in 1998 ordered NHTSA to improve air bag safety and minimize those risks, Dudley, in comments submitted by her organization, Mercatus, opposed NHTSA’s rulemaking. She argued that the market would maximize safety, suggested elimination of the air bag rule altogether, and voiced general opposition to all safety standards. Ironically, it was precisely the lack of adequate safety standards for air bags that led to the air bag tragedies.
  • Dudley opposed a rule to maintain the public’s right to know about the risks they would face from a chemical plant accident or attack: “If there is a public demand for this information, as EPA’s benefit assessment argues, nongovernmental organizations would find value in deriving it. The fact that they don’t suggests that the value of the information to the public is less than the cost of the information.”

Ms. Dudley’s views on the role of heath and safety agencies clearly appear far outside the mainstream – on fuel efficiency, protection from air bags that injure children, or the public’s right to know about a chemical plant accident. We are concerned that an OIRA administrator with Dudley’s apparent ideological hostility to regulation could have a devastating impact on these safeguards.
Given the likely very short timetable anticipated in the post-election Senate session and the grave importance of this nomination, we ask that you refuse to vote on the nomination until concerns about Susan Dudley’s past statements and record have been adequately addressed. Thank you for your attention to these concerns.
Sally Greenberg
Senior Product Safety Counsel
Washington Office
Ann Wright
Senior Policy Analyst
Washington Office