Optimal Ossification

34 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2017 Last revised: 10 Feb 2021

See all articles by Aaron L. Nielson

Aaron L. Nielson

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School

Date Written: November 27, 2017


One of the dirtiest words in administrative law is “ossification”—the term used for the notion that procedural requirements force agencies to spend a long time on rulemakings. When regulatory reform is discussed, all too often the response is “ossification.” Ossification, however, is misunderstood. Even leaving aside the other benefits of procedures, delay itself can be valuable. For instance, procedural delay can operate as a credible commitment mechanism against change, thereby encouraging increased private participation in the regulatory scheme at a lower “price” for the agency. Moreover, for the most significant rules, delay gives the public time to respond. When law changes too quickly, public confidence can decrease. To the extent that agencies benefit from public confidence, procedural delay thus can be valuable. At the same time, of course, delay is not always useful and, in any event, there can be too much of a good thing. Not all regulatory schemes need a credible commitment mechanism and sometimes delay undermines rather than enhances public confidence.

The challenge, therefore, is not to eliminate ossification. Rather, the goal should be to maximize ossification’s benefits while minimizing its costs. Hence, when evaluating proposals for reform, it is not enough to simply say “ossification.” Instead, one must search for the optimal amount of ossification. This Article begins to sketch what that more complete analysis might look like.

Keywords: Ossification, administrative law, what's new in administrative law

JEL Classification: K23

Suggested Citation

Nielson, Aaron, Optimal Ossification (November 27, 2017). 86 George Washington Law Review 1209 (2018), BYU Law Research Paper No. 17-30, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3078946 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3078946

Aaron Nielson (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School ( email )

430 JRCB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States

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