Institutional mechanisms for investigating the regulatory implications of a major crisis: The commission of inquiry and the safety board


Book Section

© Cambridge University Press 2017. As we have seen, events like the 2008 financial crash, the BP- Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill, or the Fukushima nuclear accident trigger massive public attention and often significant regulatory reactions. Once media coverage and the crystallization of public opinion anoint such events as crises that require priority consideration, policy-makers have to discern a way forward. This process typically involves some effort to investigate the recent events and identify their causes. The bodies responsible for such retrospective analysis usually look ahead as well as back. They make judgments about whether policy-makers should revise their risk assessments in light of events, recalibrate their views of trade-offs among competing policy goals, and reconstruct strategies of risk management. There are many ways to structure investigation into the causes and policy implications of crisis events. In some cases, governments rely on the standard institutions of policy-making. Investigatory bodies at every level of government pride themselves in their ability to perform probing, incisive studies that reveal pivotal evidence and offer relevant analysis for the formulation of policy recommendations. The applicable legislative committees ask staff to undertake extensive background studies and hold a series of hearings in the usual course of business. They then publish extensive reports to guide and justify legislature reforms, or legislative inaction. Executive agencies responsible for mitigating or preventing relevant risks may pursue similar inquiries, whether based on staff research or the work of outside experts, and either alone or through the auspices of cross-agency task forces. The “normal” channels of policy assessment, however, have limitations. They sometimes lack expertise with regard to the issues at hand, and inevitably take place in a context of partisan politics. They also place the responsibility for policy analysis in the hands of the very institutions whose prior choices failed to prevent the crisis event. Officials within those institutions have strong incentives to shape explanatory narratives so as to deflect blame for the events that have brought such significant social and economic costs. These shortcomings have frequently led governments to shy away from the typical institutional channels of democratic governance as the most appropriate policy coroners to undertake a crisis event “autopsy.” On many occasions, governments have instead turned to ostensibly more independent mechanisms of investigation and policy analysis.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Balleisen, EJ; Bennear, LS; Cheang, D; Free, J; Hayes, M; Pechar, E; Preston, AC

Published Date

  • January 1, 2017

Book Title

  • Policy Shock: Recalibrating Risk and Regulation after Oil Spills, Nuclear Accidents and Financial Crises

Start / End Page

  • 485 - 539

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781107140219

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/9781316492635.017

Citation Source

  • Scopus