Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cass Sunstein and Catch-22

Cass Sunstein is leaving as head of regulatory review for the Obama administration, but before he's out the door he's pushing the idea of making government forms simpler, by testing them through focus groups or similar processes.  That's fine and dandy, but...

What's my but?  

Most government information collections (forms) are well-established, but some are new. The memo which Sunstein's post links to, further links to earlier guidance, including a detailed Q&A put out by the Bush administration.  There we learn that you need to have OMB approval before using focus groups over 9 people in total.  So if I've got a new program which requires a new data collection and a new form, I've got to get OMB approval twice: first of the draft form, second, after I've run the draft through my focus groups of the final form.  It would make more sense to give blanket approval of focus groups without this Catch-22.  Matter of fact, changing the guidance for OMB approval of information collections to require focus group (or equivalent) testing in the documentation would be good.

But I've got another but.

Sunstein's initiative shows how stuck in the past OMB is.  He should have been leading a transition from paper-based collections to Web-based collections.  He didn't.

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