Yesterday we began a multi-part series on Susan Dudley, the Bush administration’s nominee to head OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Dudley’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for November 13, and activist organizations are campaigning to see her nomination scuttled. OMB Watch and Public Citizen both provide supporters identical form letters which they encourage their supporters to send to show their disapproval. The letter gives three reasons for opposing Dudley:
- “her ideological opposition to regulation”;
- “her support for radical policies that would impair public safeguards, and
- “her ties to industry.”
The letter appears to be editable. Adjacent to the form letter is a web tool for automatically sending the letter. Users must supply an email address, name, and physical address. We have not tested the tool.
In our series we review the merits of the the Opposition Report published by Public Citizen and OMB Watch. Our first post provided background information about OIRA. Today’s installment provides background information on Public Citizen and OMB Watch.
The Opposition Report is the joint work product of Public Citizen and OMB Watch, both Left-liberal nonprofit advocacy organizations founded by Ralph Nader or spawned by an organization Nader created. Thus, they represent different aspects of the same philosophical perspective. The Report was editorially supervised by Robert Shull, “who began the project as Director of Regulatory Policy for OMB Watch and concluded it as Deputy Director for Auto Safety and Regulatory Policy for Public Citizen” (see the acknowledgments page).
Public Citizen was founded in 1971 by Ralph Nader and since 1982 has been headed by Joan Claybrook, who was the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the Carter administration (1977-2001). While at NHTSA, Claybrook signed into law numerous motor vehicle safety regulations, including the first regulation mandating air bags.. Since then Claybrook has been a consistent defender of this regulation and proponent of more extensive regulations of the same type.
Before becoming OIRA Administrator in 2001, John Graham published several articlescritical of NHTSA’s airbag rule, particularly its performance standard requirements that made them risky for children and small stature adults. In 1997 he testified before the Transportation Safety Board here and here. His conclusion was that the frontal airbag was a mixed blessing:
Overall, the driver-side airbag has proven to be a useful safety device with a cost-effectiveness ratio that is comparable to other well-accepted measures in preventive medicine… I must confess that the evidence has shown that we oversold the benefits of the driver-side airbag. We predicted that driver-side airbags would reduce fatality risk to unbelted occupants by 30%, when in fact, it appears, based on the best available data, they are reducing them by only 13%. (For belted drivers, our estimate of a 10 percent fatality reduction was about right.) We have also learned that the driver-side airbag is not as effective in preventing injuries as we expected, and that airbags cause many more injuries to drivers than we anticipated. For almost half the crashes where airbags deploy (low speed crashes), a case can be made that they are actually causing more injuries to belted drivers than they are preventing.
As for proposed rules requiring passenger-side airbags, Graham had words of caution:
Let me comment now on the passenger-side airbag. In my opinion, the United States needs a fundamental reexamination of its approach to passenger-side protection. We are perhaps the only nation in the world that is so committed to passenger-side airbags, yet the available data do not warrant such enthusiasm about them. We now know that we overstated by a factor of three the safety benefits of passenger bags. We have also been stunned and appalled by the harm they have inflicted upon young children. They appear to kill more children than they save, with the best estimate being a net 33% increase in death risk to children. Even among children who are properly restrained, we cannot say with confidence that airbags save more of these children than they kill. For America’s children, the current passenger-side airbag is a big loser. Taking into account risk, cost, and benefit, my own opinion is that the current passenger-side airbag is not acceptable. We need to either change human behavior, improve the technology, and/or both. The status quo is not acceptable!
When Graham was nominated to head OIRA In 2001, Claybrook led the opposition. Both before and after his confirmation, Graham sparred with Claybrook repeatedly. So it’s not entirely surprising that the Opposition Report includes a 7-page case study criticizing Dudley’s views on NHTSA’s advanced airbag rule. In our next installment, we show why this case study almost certainly reflects Claybrook’s deep personal involvement in this issue and has little if anything to do with Dudley.
OMB Watch was founded in 1983 “to lift the veil of secrecy shrouding the powerful White House Office of Management and Budget.” It is led by founder and executive director Gary Bass, a lifelong activist for Left-liberal causes. The organization opposes OMB’s involvement in regulatory oversight. During the Clinton administration, OMB Watch devoted most of its efforts to opposing legislation that would have codified in law OMB’s presidentially-authorized regulatory review process. It opposed S. 746(Thompson-Levin), various regulatory accounting bills, bills on risk assessment principles and practices, and bills that would have created a congressional counterpart to OIRA. To lobby against these changes, OMB Watch organized a virtual affiliate called Citizens for Sensible Safeguards:
With the advent of the 104th Congress and the Contract With America, federal protections have come under constant attack, being labeled as examples of “big government”and, as a result, targeted for “reform.” CSS has made its principle aim the guarantee that vital community and environmental safeguards will not be sacrificed in order to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. Through grassroots networking and education, media campaigns, and Congressional and Administrative briefings, CSS has taken a lead role in educating the public on the importance of its public safeguards and defeating or modifying proposals that undermine them.
Though CSS was established in 1996 to oppose legislation, it has reinvented itself as an opponent of the Bush administration’s regulatory policies.
for 2004, OMB Watch and Public Citizen and reported revenues of $1.3 million and $13.9 million, respectively, with Public Citizen’s revenue divided between its nonprofit advocacy corporation ($3.6 million) and its nonprofit charitable foundation ($10.3 million).
Claybrook has testified to Congress that Public Citizen has 150,000 members. Its 2004 financial reports show $1.6 million in membership dues. Assuming each donated theminimum amount ($20), the maximum number of members is about 80,000. OMB Watch is not a membership-based nonprofit.