On the value of formal assessment of uncertainty in regulatory analysis


Professor Robert N. Stavins, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Email: robert_stavins@harvard.edu


The US Office of Management and Budget introduced in 2003 a new requirement for the treatment of uncertainty in Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) of proposed regulations, requiring agencies to carry out a formal quantitative uncertainty assessment regarding a regulation’s benefits and costs if either is expected to reach $1 billion annually. Despite previous use in other contexts, such formal assessments of uncertainty have rarely been employed in RIAs or other regulatory analyses. We describe how formal quantitative assessments of uncertainty – in particular, Monte Carlo analyses – can be conducted, we examine the challenges and limitations of such analyses in the context of RIAs, and we assess how the resulting information can affect the evaluation of regulations. For illustrative purposes, we compare Monte Carlo analysis with methods typically used in RIAs to evaluate uncertainty in the context of economic analyses carried out for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Nonroad Diesel Rule, which became effective in 2004.