By Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday he would pick Howard Shelanski, an antitrust expert, as his new regulatory czar, a powerful White House position charged with reviewing regulations proposed by government departments.
Shelanski, who is both an economist and a lawyer, is currently in charge of a team of economists that reviews competition and consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission.
He was described by lawyers who know him as a sophisticated analyst who has a pragmatic approach gained from spending time in the trenches of a government agency.
"In my opinion, he's a home run," said William Eskridge, law professor at Yale University, who praised Shelanski for his intellect.
The regulatory czar is formally called the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA - a body within the White House budget office.
Shelanski would replace Cass Sunstein, a well known and often controversial author who left the White House in August to return to teach at Harvard Law School.
During Sunstein's tenure, the White House came under fire from environmental groups for thwarting regulations that were deemed to cost too much, including killing a smog rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"I think its mission was to stop rules," said Rena Steinzor, a law professor at University of Maryland, and president of the Center for Progressive Reform, a group that pushes for tougher environmental and health regulations.
Meanwhile, business lobby groups and Republicans have accused OIRA of not doing enough to slow regulations they view as burdensome and overreaching.
"It's a kind of a thankless job," said Michael Livermore, executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law.
"You're almost guaranteed to have a lot of forces aligned against you and unhappy with you," said Livermore, who called Shelanski a "balanced thinker" who understands the complex regulatory process.
KNOWN AS STRAIGHT SHOOTER
Shelanski is an affable person who is skilful at persuasion, said David Balto, a public-interest antitrust lawyer who said he has frequently found himself on the losing end of the argument.
"He has never agreed with anything I have ever proposed!" said Balto, policy director at the Federal Trade Commission during the Clinton administration.
"He's the kind of person who knows how to work well with people of very different perspectives and reach agreement," said Balto.
Shelanski was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He spent a decade on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. He also worked as the chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission and was a White House economist during the Clinton administration.
"He has a reputation as a straight shooter with no obvious ax to grind," said Bruce Kraus, partner with Kelley Drye & Warren LLP in New York City.
The job requires Senate confirmation, which was difficult for his predecessor Sunstein. But Shelanski's lower public profile and impressive experience could make the confirmation process easier.
"I don't know his politics, but anyone with both the Berkeley faculty and a Scalia clerkship on his resume, without knowing more, looks like a good bet for confirmation," Kraus said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)