Richard Williams

Richard Williams

  • Vice President, Policy Research
  • Director of Regulatory Studies Program
  • Senior Research Fellow

Richard Williams is vice president for policy research, director of the Regulatory Studies Program, and a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is an expert in benefit-cost analysis and risk analysis, particularly associated with food safety and nutrition.

Williams has testified before the US Congress and addressed numerous international governments, including those of the United Kingdom, South Korea, Yugoslavia, and Australia. His media appearances have included NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Before joining the Mercatus Center, Williams was the director for social sciences at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He also was an adviser to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and taught economics at Washington and Lee University. He is a US Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

Williams received his PhD and MA in economics from Virginia Tech and his BS in business administration from Old Dominion University.

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Published Research

Working Papers

Richard Williams | Aug 18, 2015
The FDA has been charged by the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) with improving food safety in the United States. The four large regulations analyzed in this paper do not appear able to accomplish that mission. Part of the reason for this failure is that Congress has narrowly prescribed some of the reforms that must be in these regulations.
Jerry Ellig, Richard Williams | Aug 13, 2014
The number of regulations and their economic impact continue to grow. Yet the quality and use of economic analysis to inform regulatory decisions falls far short of the standards enunciated in executive orders governing regulatory analysis and review.
Patrick McLaughlin, Richard Williams | Feb 11, 2014
The American regulatory system has no working, systematic process for reviewing regulations for obsolescence or poor performance. Over time, this has facilitated the accumulation a vast stock of regulations. Regulatory accumulation can negatively affect GDP growth, labor productivity, innovation, and safety—perhaps explaining why every president since Jimmy Carter has recognized it as a problem.
Richard Williams, Sherzod Abdukadirov | Feb 07, 2012
This paper proposes a cornerstone of foundational reforms on which to build comprehensive regulatory reform.


Policy Briefs

Richard Williams, James Broughel | May 27, 2015
Federal regulatory agencies have been required to produce a regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for major regulations since the early 1980s. The analysis should include an estimate of the expected benefits and costs of the regulatory action (a benefit-cost analysis, or BCA) as well as a description of the parties who are likely to receive those benefits and incur those costs. The latter part of an RIA is known as a distributional analysis, and is not part of a classic BCA. Distributional analysis explores how wealth is redistributed as a result of policy decisions.
Jerry Ellig, Richard Williams | Dec 12, 2014
Congress has a diverse array of proposed regulatory reforms vying for attention, from targeted reforms aimed at providing relief to small businesses to broadbased reforms of the rulemaking process. Setting priorities will be a challenge, but the common objective is clear: solving more problems at a lower cost with fewer regulations.
Richard Williams, Mark Adams | Feb 08, 2012
This paper shows how regulators can make Americans safer by writing clear, simpler rules and eliminating ineffective regulations.
Richard Williams, Robert Scharff, David Bieler | Feb 24, 2010
In a March 2009 address, President Obama declared, “There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat . . . are safe and don’t cause us harm.

Testimony & Comments

Richard Williams | Jul 15, 2015
Thirty-five years ago, President Jimmy Carter began an experiment to, in his words, “regulate the regulators” to “eliminate unnecessary federal regulations.” His experiment was to form, through the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within OMB to allow the president to gain control over the regulatory agencies. We have now had 35 years of experience to see if President Carter’s goals have been achieved. They have not.
Richard Williams | Jul 29, 2013
Congress has asked for the president, through the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in OMB, to report on the state of the federal regulatory system for the last 15 years in annual Reports to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Unfunded Mandates on State, Local, and Tribal Entities (hereafter referred to as “the Reports”).1 While some of the elements Congress requested are present in some of the Reports, none of the Reports gives a complete picture of the state of the federal regulatory system.
Richard Williams | Jun 11, 2012
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has requested comment on the 2012 Draft Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Unfunded Mandates on State, Local and Tribal Entities (hereafter referred to as “the OMB report”). This comment has been produced by Richard A. Williams, Ph.D., of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, an education, research, and outreach organization that works with scholars, policy experts, and government officials to bridge academic theory and real-world practice.
Richard Williams | Mar 21, 2012
Richard Williams testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law on how effective regulatory reform has been under the Obama Administration.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Speeches & Presentations

Media Clippings

Richard Williams | Jul 24, 2011
Outlet: New York Times
Richard Williams | Mar 08, 2011
Outlet: Wall Street Journal
Richard Williams | Feb 15, 2011
Outlet: Quality Assurance
Richard Williams | Dec 02, 2010
Outlet: NPR

Expert Commentary

Nov 11, 2015

At a time when some areas of science are exploding all around us with new possibilities—nanotechnology, robotics, human genome sequencing, genetic modification, quantum physics, and the Internet of Things—we need something better than a half-century old model of ensuring safety to advance medical care. If the FDA had been on Mars to regulate Mark Watney, he probably would have just sat there and died.
Oct 29, 2015

It's been estimated that 70 to 80 percent of foods eaten in the United States contain ingredients that have been genetically modified. But labeling these foods is certainly not a food safety issue; there has never been a case of harm to people from GM products - ever. And it's also not something that the FDA can legally do right now, because there is no scientific difference between GM foods and conventional foods.
Sep 24, 2015

Guilty! The perpetrator of the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak, Stewart Parnell of the Peanut Corporation of America, just received a 28-year sentence for knowingly distributing Salmonella-containing peanuts. The familiar refrain will be that this is evidence that our food safety system is broken. But those who believe that the response in 2010, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), is the answer have it completely wrong. In fact, the results of this court case provide a strong incentive for everyone involved in food safety, from farms to restaurants, to exercise due diligence.
Sep 16, 2015

In the name of improving safety, the Food and Drug Administration has just finalized two of the possible 40 or 50 rules that are likely to come out of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, enacted in 2011. Yet to modernize the food industry, it reached back to a technology invented by the food industry about 50 years ago. This system, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), makes food manufacturers keep a constant check on their production process. Because the technology is so old, and has already been fairly widely adopted within the industry, this isn’t the kind of “modern” change the agency needs.
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