Authors: Cary Coglianese
April 1, 2001
Center for Business and Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government
Observers of environmental policy increasingly urge regulators to build consensus before making policy decisions. By seeking consensus, regulators are supposed to be able to reduce conflict, increase compliance, improve public policy, and promote public participation. Yet consensus-building markedly shifts the prevailing norms of governance in the United States by de-centering the role of agency officials, making them facilitators or negotiation partners rather than central, accountable decision makers charged with seeking solutions that advance the overall public interest. A shift to consensus as the basis for regulatory policy also creates or exacerbates at least six pathologies in the policy process: tractability over importance, imprecision, lowest common denominator, increased time and resources, unrealistic expectations, and additional sources of conflict. The widespread establishment of consensus as the goal of regulatory policy making would constitute a shift in the prevailing mode of governance that is neither necessary nor wise.
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