Business, Economics and Jobs

Cass Sunstein, Obama's regulatory 'czar', resigns to return to Harvard Law School

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on August 2, 2012 in New York City.
Credit: Spencer Platt

Cass Sunstein, President Barack Obama's "regulatory czar" will leave the White House after three years to return to Harvard Law School, the White House announced Friday.

Sunstein, 57, whose Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs oversaw all proposed federal regulations, led the Obama administration’s efforts to streamline paperwork requirements for businesses, the Washington Post wrote.

Obama thanked his former University of Chicago colleague — they both taught constitutional law — "for his friendship and for his years of exceptional service."

The president, in a statement cited by the Boston Globe, credited Sunstein with showing "that it is possible to support economic growth without sacrificing health, safety and the environment. With these reforms and his tenacious promotion of cost-benefit analysis, his efforts will benefit Americans for years to come."

His direct boss, White House Office of Management and Budget director Jeffrey Zients, meantime, credited him with helping design "numerous rules that are, among other things, saving lives on the highways by making vehicles safer and reducing distracted driving; dramatically increasing the fuel economy of the nation’s cars and trucks; protecting public health by reducing air pollution; making our food supply safer; and protecting against discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation."

Sunstein was, according to the LA Times, "known as the chief advocate for rigorous cost-benefit analysis in drafting rules and challenging common assumptions about the effect of government intervention in business."

He won support from the right with his 2009 nomination praised by The Wall Street Journal editorial board as a "promising sign."

Republicans, while maintaining their attacks on the Obama’s administration "job-killing regulations," also acknowledged Sunstein's efforts in reducing the financial burden of government regulations.

“He was a strong force for creative policy solutions in a political environment that was highly polarized,” John Graham, who ran the office under President George W. Bush, told Bloomberg's Businessweek.

Sunstein also was praised by the US Chamber of Commerce and the Washington-based Business Roundtable, Bloomberg wrote.

Meanwhile, environmental and safety advocates said Sunstein was overly deferential to business interests, to the detriment of consumer protections, Bloomberg wrote.

And the Wall Street Journal cited conservatives as pointing to new regulations for the financial sector as evidence that the administration had actually increased the regulatory burden on businesses.

At Harvard, Sunstein will rejoin the law school faculty as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and Director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy.

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