1. Analyze a Federal agency’s proposal for a new or revised rule published in the Federal Register. Be sure the agency is asking for public comment, and be sure the proposal presents some substantive issues you can discuss. If the proposal is more than one year old, you must obtain approval for the topic.
Your task is to prepare a paper to let me decide whether I want to adopt the rule, change it, or reject it. You want to demonstrate your analytical prowess; you are likely to find that difficult if your topic is how an agency should change its procedural rules, for example. On the other hand, some seemingly minor rules (e.g., size standards for cucumbers) may raise significant policy issues. Consult with me if you have any doubts.
2. Paper copy due May 1. It should be about 20 pages, double spaced, typed, with pages numbered.
3. Your paper should be thorough, well reasoned, well organized, well written, and well supported. In particular, I expect a more comprehensive research effort. It should accomplish the following tasks, although it will probably be best to organize the paper around the issues the proposal raises, rather than the tasks listed below. An example of an outstanding paper is posted on Blackboard (Arsenic in Apple Juice).
a. Describe briefly the agency’s proposal. What exactly are they going to require? Be sure to include a specific citation to the proposal.
b. Analyze the problem the agency is trying to solve. What market failure creates a need for intervention? How big is the problem? What causes it? Is it really a problem at all, or should it be left alone?
c. Address the major comments on the proposal. Comments are available, virtually always online, but precisely where is likely to depend on the agency. Comments submitted through the official portal for rules (www.regulations.gov) are available through that site, but many agencies may have an easier-to-use collection of the comments on their own websites. You’ll have to poke around to find it. You don’t need to read or summarize all of the individual comments, but you do need to discuss what the significant interest groups have to say about the proposal. Addressing the comments should be part of your analysis of the pros and cons of the proposal from the perspective of the different interest groups. You don’t need to organize the summary group by group, (it will likely read better if it is organized around issues, rather than groups) but you should include the position of each of the major groups.
d. Make use of the information the agency provides about its proposal, including its cost benefit analysis. Look for relatively disinterested analyses of the issue to help understand what the agency is proposing and the likely effects of the rule. Academic articles addressing the specific rule you are considering will be rare, but articles addressing the general issues and analyzing alternative approaches are common, and will be extremely valuable. “Think tanks,” such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Cato Institute, or the Center for American Progress often have their own analyses of regulatory issues. You’ll need to check their websites; think tanks don’t often file comments on regulatory proposals. Two groups that do file files comments on many rules from a “public interest” perspective are the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Regulatory Studies Center at GW. Think tanks have a political point of view, but it is not usually a self-interested perspective. I expect a well researched, well supported argument, with appropriate citations for facts, quotations, and opinions of others.
e. Make a recommendation. Should I adopt this rule, change it, or reject it? How is your recommendation consistent with the public interest in the sense that economists use the term (maximizing consumer welfare as judged by consumers)?
4. There are several ways to find a paper topic. You want a rule where the comment period will have ended before the paper is due, because otherwise there won’t be many comments filed (the major commenters use all the time available to polish their comment and tend to file on the last day).
a. You can do a wide (and constantly improving) variety of searches on regulations.gov, including keyword searches that you can narrow to the most likely relevant documents. For example, you can search for “food safety,” then narrow the search to proposed rules where the comment period has closed. This is probably the best way.
b. You can consult The Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, available online at http://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/eAgendaMain. This volume lists all ongoing agency activity with a (very brief) abstract of each regulatory proposal, and includes citations to the Federal Register for proposals that have already appeared. You can either pick an agency that does things that interest you, do keyword searches, or consult the index.
c. You can visit the website for the GW Regulatory Studies Center (http://www.regulatorystudies.gwu.edu/index.php/home). Follow the link to news and events, and you’ll see the weekly editions of the Regulatory Digest. The digest highlights significant regulatory developments, including new proposals, final actions, and the regulatory issues that people are writing about. You can subscribe if you want weekly updates over the course of the semester (but don’t wait too long to pick a topic!).
5. Grading criteria:
Analysis (roughly 70%). Did you identify and analyze the key issues in the proposed rule? Did you come to well-reasoned conclusions about those issues? Did you address significant potential objections to your argument?
Quality of professional writing (roughly 15%) Writing style should be professional, not conversational or an emotional or rhetorical pitch for your position. You will be downgraded for by bad grammar, (singular/plural mismatches, past/present/future tense mismatches, etc.) misuse of homonyms (e.g., they’re, their, and there; to, too, and two; bare and bear (I’m persistently amazed at the number of naked interest groups that are affected by rules!), and many others). I’m particularly annoyed by group papers where different people obviously wrote different parts (that’s fine) but there was no serious effort to integrate the pieces into a coherent whole (that’s not).
Research effort (roughly 15%). The biggest plus is incorporating (as opposed to separately identifying) the arguments from relatively disinterested sources (academic articles, think tanks, etc.). The biggest negative is the failure to seek