Coglianese, Cary, and Laurie Allen. "Building Sector-Based Consensus: A Review of the EPA's Common Sense Initiative." KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP03-037, September 2003.
In the late 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted what the agency considered to be a "bold experiment" in regulatory reinvention, bringing representatives from six industrial sectors together with government officials and NGO representatives to forge a consensus on innovations in public policy and business practices. This paper assesses the impact of the agency's "experiment" -- called the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) -- in terms of the agency's goals of improving regulatory performance and technological innovation. Based on a review of CSI projects across all six sectors, the paper shows how EPA achieved, at best, quite modest accomplishments. The paper explains how EPA's decision to rely on consensus as a procedural rule contributed to CSI's failure to meet the agency's ambitious goals. Faced with delays, CSI participants tended to work on projects over which agreement was possible, such as on the development of training manuals or production of case studies, instead of tackling more significant issues. These information-gathering and educational projects avoided the kind of conflicts that would have arisen over more ambitious efforts, but at the expense of making more meaningful economic or environmental improvement. The EPA's experience with CSI provides cautionary lessons for regulators in any policy area who might contemplate using consensus as a decision rule.