Continuous Quality Improvement and the Regulatory Process

Lora Bentley

Last month, President Obama issued an executive order directing federal agencies to evaluate their regulations and "weed out," so to speak, those that are overly burdensome, ineffective or obsolete. What the order didn't do was set out a process for accomplishing that evaluation efficiently.


But Jerry Ellig, a research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, told the evaluation process shouldn't be all that difficult. He pointed out that proposed regulations must be evaluated before they are even adopted. If the same questions are answered four or five years after the regs have been in place, it's a starting point, at the very least.


Some of those questions might be:

Did it produce the outcomes of value to the public that we expected it to produce? Did the regulation actually solve the problem that we were trying to solve? What did it actually end up costing to enact this regulation?

In other words, a standard cost-benefit analysis would be appropriate. But even those questions won't be sufficient, Ellig indicated, unless all of the stakeholders are given the opportunity to answer them. "We need some type of a new approach to generate information and ideas about regulations that need to be revised," Ellig said.


The idea of re-evaluating and adjusting processes to improve quality is not a new one in business. That's where the continuous audit or continuous quality improvement comes in. It's not uncommon for products or results to be monitored and tested as often as every month, and then for adjustments to be made according to the findings. Technology might be tweaked, employees might go through more training, processes might be reordered-whatever is necessary. The next month, the whole things starts over again.


Though a monthly cycle might be a little quick for government processes like rule-making, a quarterly cycle might be more doable. And like Ellig also suggests, it may be best to task the GAO or another independent commission with the evaluation work so that politics and personalities aren't so much of an issue.

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