Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, July 21, 2016

Students’ research presented to prestigious National Academies

Students in a La Follette School of Public Affairs’ class had their research paper presented to the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC.

La Follette Professor Don Moynihan presented the paper by Johanna Dolle (MPA ’16) and two graduate students to the National Academies’ Committee for a Study of Performance-Based Safety Regulation, which is sponsored the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The students prepared the report for Moynihan’s Performance Management class and worked with National Academies’ staff to review evidence on the effects of performance-based regulations. The paper – Evaluating the Applicability of Performance-Based Regulations to High-Hazard Industries – offers theoretical and empirical insights on three questions:

  • Under what conditions is a performance-based standard the appropriate regulatory instrument?
  • What particular challenges are expected to arise in implementing performance-based regulation?
  • What types of regulations are our peer (comparable) nations applying to the regulation of high-hazard industries?

Based on the evidence reviewed, the authors argued that there was not strong evidence on the benefits have of performance- and management-based regulations in high-hazard industries. They did recommend, though, that the PHSMA and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine engage in three activities to explore potential benefits.

  • Harmonize data collection procedures to facilitate empirical research on management-based regulations
  • Combine regulatory regimes to exploit comparative advantages and to make an incremental transition toward non-prescriptive regulation
  • Establish a pilot program to encourage experimentation

Moynihan is a member of the Committee for a Study of Performance-Based Safety Regulation, which is part of the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board. The PHMSA is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations for pipeline and hazardous-materials transportation.

Dolle, Bridget Faust, a graduate student in UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environment Studies, and Tyge Larsen of the University of Copenhagen prepared the report for the La Follette School’s Performance Management course. The course introduces students to the concept of performance management as they explore different tools that aim to raise performance and examine recent reforms at the federal, state, and local level, along with alternative theories of performance.

“The fact that the committee asked me to present the students’ work again is a clear indication of the value and quality of the report,” Moynihan said. “The National Academies is the body created by Congress to help them with scientific problems. Most faculty spend their career hoping that their research will be noticed by it, so it’s incredibly unusual for student research to be part of the record of the committee.”

Tom Menzies, the committee’s staff director, said the paper includes substantial material that will be helpful as the panel develops its report and structures its arguments. “I found it to be very well done in summarizing the literature, identifying challenges, and illustrating the challenges from case studies in the literature,” Menzies told Moynihan.