WHITE HOUSE:

Obama taps Sunstein to head OIRA

President Obama tapped Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein today to direct the White House office that oversees federal regulation -- a little-known position that wields significant power.

Sunstein, 54, a friend of Obama and a well-known constitutional lawyer, has been nominated to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA, which is part of the White House Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed as OIRA administrator, Sunstein would be responsible for reviewing draft regulations and assessing their costs and benefits. In that capacity, he will have influence over rules about everything from climate regulations to worker safety measures.

"As one of America's leading constitutional scholars, Cass Sunstein has distinguished himself in a range of fields, including administrative law and policy, environmental law, and behavioral economics," Obama said in a statement. "He is uniquely qualified to lead my administration's regulatory reform agenda at this crucial stage in our history. Cass is not only a valued adviser, he is a dear friend and I am proud to have him on my team."

Sunstein's credentials have been heavily scrutinized since his likely nomination was reported in early January. Regulatory experts across the board have commended his academic credentials, but some watchdog groups and other observers have criticized stances Sunstein has taken in the past, particularly his strong support for the use of cost-benefit analysis in agency rulemaking (E&ENews PM, Jan. 8).

Sunstein is now the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He was the Harry Kalven Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1981 until 2008. Prior to that, he worked as an attorney-adviser in the Office of the Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice. He clerked for Justice Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1978 to 1979 and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1979 to 1980.