Over the past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Professor Cary Coglianese and Regulation Fellows in the Penn Program on Regulation Gabriel Scheffler and Daniel Walters. This project investigated the existence and significance of waivers and exemptions for businesses in statutory and regulatory texts. While “regulations” are usually conceptualized as restrictive impositions on the private sector, rulemaking often includes creating the opportunity for individuals, businesses and other actors to be exempt from the general regulations.
Part of this project involved a text analysis of the entire body of the Federal Register as well as the yearly text of the Code of Federal Regulations from 2005 through 2017. In conducting the text analysis, I worked in R to process the corpus into a spreadsheet with the word count of certain terms like “shall” or “exempt” from each volume or year of the text. Through this work, I was able to expand my familiarity with coding in R and with methods for text analysis in qualitative research.
Another part of this project involved looking at the online transparency of agencies in their discretionary power to exempt businesses, states, tribes, and/or individuals from certain regulations. While some agencies had many webpages dedicated to explaining the application process to obtain a waiver/exemption and to listing applicants and recipients, some agencies had no information at all on the waiver or exemption laid out in the statutory or regulatory text. I went through around 200 randomized text samples, 100 from the United States Code (U.S.C.) and the other from the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), with another research assistant. We searched in the Federal Register and on the relevant agencies’ websites to see if there was any substantial reference to the waiver or exemption, applications received, applications approved, or the process involved. The results of this search were recorded as a dataset.
To look at the significance of these waivers and exemptions, instances where the exemption created a loophole for private actors, I researched Congressional hearings as well as reports from the Government Accountability Office. In doing the research, there were some instances where the exemptions resulted in negative repercussions. For instance, a ballast water exemption later led to the zebra mussel invasion of the Great Lakes, forever impacting the environmental stability in that region.
This experience gave me the strengthened my ability to conduct research online, especially as it relates to governmental reports. Furthermore, I’ve expanded my knowledge of the regulatory process. I was also able to reinforce my interest in public policy and the rulemaking