The Administrative Presidency and the
Politics of Risk Management
This chapter examines the institutional presidency, particularly the Office of Management and Budget and its interactions with regulatory agencies and congressional oversight committees in the politics of risk assessment and risk management. Risk assessment and risk management operate in a political system that has been characterized as relatively open, competitive, pluralistic, and often confrontational. 1 As one of a number of public and private participants, OMB has a legitimate role to play in the risk management process, reflecting the political concerns and priorities of an administration. Some basic questions relating to that role have involved both the broader struggle to obtain greater political accountability and public access in OIRA's operations and the adequacy of its scientific expertise in reviewing agency risk assessments. Conflict, even a measure of distrust, is inescapable between OMB and congressional oversight committees, as well as between OMB and regulatory agencies, because of their institutional roles and perspectives on risk-related matters. While some progress was achieved by agencies in adopting risk assessment procedures, particularly in the second term of the Reagan Administration, the different perspectives of OMB and some regulatory agencies were complicated by the manner in which OMB dealt with risk-related matters and by the heightened conflict between OMB and Congress over regulatory policy. The Reagan administrative presidency strategy managed to carve out a more important role for OMB in risk management without specific congressional authorization or approval. But this gain was realized at the expense of addressing longer-term complex problems of coordination and cooperation between Congress and the presidency dealing with risk-related problems.