Oral history project examines expert view of U.S. regulation since 1970s

The Kenan Institute’s Rethinking Regulation program this semester hosted Kenan Practitioner-in-Residence Sally Katzen.  During her visits this fall,  Ed Balleisen, Associate Professor of History and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, recorded an oral history with Katzen that will be transcribed and made available as a recording through the Duke Library.  The oral history project documents her career trajectory as a lawyer, consultant, leader within the American Bar Association, public member of the Administrative Council of the United States and public servant in the Carter and Clinton administrations.  Additionally, it provides her perspective on crucial shifts in the formulation and implementation of regulatory policy in the United States since 1970.  Balleisen hopes that this will be the first in a series of oral histories about regulatory protagonists which could assist scholars in understanding the ethical dimensions of regulatory policy over time.

Katzen recounted in the interview the many ethical tradeoffs she had to consider when serving as the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) under the Clinton Administration.  Specifically she recalled a question about the regulation of airbags in cars.  Front seat airbags in the mid-1990s were sometimes killing small children and infants who were sitting in the front seats of cars.   Regulators could ask car manufacturers to lessen the impact of the airbags, but doing so would endanger very large adults who were not wearing seat belts because the air bag would be not be forceful enough to stop their impact.  In the end, Katzen’s team decided that ethically it was more important to protect the children and infants who often did not have a choice of sitting in the front seat, since the large adults could always choose to wear a seat belt.  This is just one example of a decision-making process that Katzen details, along with lively anecdotes from the course of her career.

Balleisen hopes to have the entire oral history transcribed in the next few months.  For more information, contact Jenny Cook at Jennifer.cook@duke.edu