Notice & Comment

Tribute to Paul R. Verkuil, by Reeve T. Bull

Among legal disciplines, perhaps none involves the doctrinal breadth of administrative law. Administrative law topics range from foundational constitutional principles, such as the proper allocation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, to far more commonplace matters, such as whether a secondary school student can be suspended without some sort of hearing. And administrative law governs most of the interactions that citizens have with their government.

Given the wide sweep of the subject and its centrality to modern governance, very few scholars or practitioners have a comprehensive understanding of the field. Most specialize in a small handful of topics or subtopics. One of the few who can lay claim to expertise in nearly all aspects of regulatory law is Paul R. Verkuil, who recently retired after a highly distinguished career in academia, the private sector, and the government. Given his extraordinary background in the administrative law field, Professor Verkuil was an obvious choice when President Barack Obama was looking to appoint a Chairman for the newly reestablished Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS). Professor Verkuil was confirmed as Chairman in 2010 and immediately set about staffing the agency and taking on a variety of projects.

As one of the preeminent American regulatory scholars, and as someone who had served as an ACUS member and consultant multiple times prior to his appointment, Chairman Verkuil intimately understood the significant role ACUS could play in achieving worthwhile regulatory reform while also appreciating the practical limitations facing a tiny agency charged with working in a space that is often characterized by political controversy. Mindful of this reality, Chairman Verkuil scrupulously selected topics for study in which ACUS could achieve major progress without alienating one side or the other. During his tenure, the ACUS Assembly, which consists of 101 voting members drawn roughly equally from the government and private sectors and includes individuals from across the political spectrum, passed dozens of recommendations with complete unanimity or, in a few rare cases, near unanimity.

In these hyper-partisan times, any resolution achieving that level of support is usually vague to the point of meaningless or so innocuous that it is of very little significance. That was far from true of the ACUS recommendations passed during Chairman Verkuil’s tenure. Though it’s impossible to do justice to the full body of work Chairman Verkuil oversaw, a few recommendations stand out:

  • ACUS Recommendation 2011-6 urged U.S. agencies to coordinate with their overseas counterparts to eliminate regulatory differences posing trade barriers. Speaking alongside Chairman Verkuil at an ACUS-hosted workshop, then OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein announced Executive Order 13,609, which adopted the ACUS recommendation as executive branch policy. That executive order, in turn, has resulted in numerous important partnerships between U.S. agencies and foreign partners.
  • ACUS Recommendation 2012-8 urged Congress to update civil monetary penalties to account for inflation. Congress took up the charge in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, enacting a change that would increase federal revenues by over $1 billion in a ten-year period.
  • ACUS issued a variety of recommendations relating to administrative adjudication, recommending a wide array of procedural protections for certain non-APA adjudications. These recommendations have resulted in numerous important reforms to agencies’ adjudicative practices.

In addition to overseeing this important body of work, Chairman Verkuil also structured the agency in a way that was sensitive to the important role that regulatory policy plays in the lives of everyday citizens. He ensured that all ACUS committee meetings were fully open to the public and that all materials were made readily available on the agency’s website. He also undertook a variety of projects relating to matters such as how agencies can use social media to enhance citizen participation in the rulemaking process or how agencies can structure video hearings to provide a satisfactory experience for the participants. Though these topics might not have made as many waves as those listed above, they resulted in meaningful improvements in how citizens interact with their government.

Since his retirement in 2015, Chairman Verkuil has not exactly ridden off into the sunset. In 2017, he published a book titled Valuing Bureaucracy that offered an impassioned defense of the important role that civil servants play in the regulatory state. He has remained highly active in a number of professional associations, including the National Academy of Public Administration, in which he’s played a significant role in proposing civil service reforms. And he has also continued to be involved in ACUS as a Senior Fellow, showing up for almost every plenary session and contributing to a wide array of ongoing Conference projects.

Chairman Verkuil shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, which is extraordinary news for all of us who work in the regulatory space. His unflagging dedication to public service is a model to all those who spend time in government at any level, and his enormous contributions to the administrative law field will continue to shape regulatory policy for generations to come.

Reeve T. Bull is the Research Director of the Administrative Conference of the United States. This piece reflects solely the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of his employer, the Administrative Conference of the United States (including its Council, committees, or members).

This post is part of the ABA Administrative Law Section Series Celebrating Public Service; all the posts in the series are collected here

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