Obama rulemaking seen as deeply flawed

From TheHill.com, By Ben Goad and Julian Hattem, 09/03/13 – In the national debate over regulations, there is one thing upon which all  sides can agree: the federal rulemaking system is deeply flawed.
Over the years, Congress and presidents have  tinkered with the inner-workings of the regulatory apparatus, placing new  restrictions on agencies charged with writing rules, and ordering them to root  out those that are outdated or overly burdensome.

Despite those tweaks, the current system lacks any institutional mechanism to  expunge unneeded federal restrictions.

There are no strict time limits requiring administrations to either issue or  withdraw proposed rules aside from those specifically set by laws or the courts.  And both advocates and critics of stronger regulations complain of a lack of  transparency to the process.

“It’s totally broken,” said Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s longtime director of  Occupational Safety and Health. “The system is basically a poster child for how  government doesn’t work.”

Yet when it comes to potential solutions, there is little consensus.

Republicans and industry groups, who have bemoaned what they view as overly  aggressive federal agencies, want more restrictions on the rulemaking process  and a greater reliance on economic analysis in decisions regarding new  regulations.

Democrats, unions and public interest groups, meanwhile, say agencies are  already hamstrung by existing restrictions on their authority, and argue that  open-ended White House reviews have led to a pattern of delays in important  protections.

“It’s definitely the way you approach the issue,” said Diana Carew, an  economist at the Progressive Policy Institute, which aligns itself with  pro-business New Democrats.

“So what’s basically happened is that nothing’s happened and now we see this  massive buildup of regulation over time and it is actually causing a hindrance  on business and business growth, and for small businesses.”

In response to the accumulation of federal rules, congressional Republicans  have been busy drafting a host of bills meant to lighten the burden of federal  red tape on businesses.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, for  instance, which requires Congress approve regulations expected to have an  economic impact of more than $100 million a year, passed the House in August  with support from just six Democrats.

Its prospects going forward, however, appear dim.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, characterizing it as a  “radical departure” from traditional separation of powers.

Its supporters, however, call it critical to make sure legislators are  responsible for regulations stemming from the laws they approve.

“Essentially, Congress passes laws and many of the hardest issues, most  difficult politically, are delegated to unaccountable, unelected government  workers to figure out the details on,” the bill’s author, Rep. Todd Young  (R-Ind.), told The Hill.

Other House GOP bills would empower the Energy Secretary to essentially veto  certain regulations if they are deemed too costly and force more agencies to  conduct cost-benefit analyses before putting new rules in place.

Altogether, there are almost two-dozen regulatory reform bills before  Congress, according to the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington  University.

Defenders of stronger rules decry the GOP legislation as a thinly veiled  effort to gum up the works of the regulatory system at the behest of big  business.

Regulations, particularly the most significant ones, can take eight to 10  years to enact. Consumer groups point to lengthy delays at the Office of  Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the White House’s clearinghouse for  major regulations.

Under a 1993 executive order signed by then-President Bill Clinton, OIRA rule  reviews are supposed to take 90 days, with the possibility of a 30-day  extension.

Yet the deadline is not binding and many rules languish at OIRA for much  longer than that, as was the case for a contentious draft rule to limit  construction workers from harmful silica dust.

That rule sat at the White House for well over two years before it was  formally proposed last week. It will take months or more before the rule can be  finalized.

Of the 130 rules currently under review at OIRA, 70 have been there more than  90 days.

Seminario, who supports strict deadlines for OIRA, said the office has gotten  involved with too many rules, creating a logjam.

“You can’t have an effective regulatory system when you have one small straw  that everything has to go through,” said Seminario, who called upon the  Government Accountability Office (GAO) to initiate a study looking at ways to  reform the system.

She and other critics decried the government’s growing reliance on  cost-benefit analysis in regulatory decisions. They note that there is no  accepted science for the practice, and argue that costs are easily exaggerated,  while benefits are more difficult to quantify.

University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor questioned how the  government could put a price tag on an IQ point lost to unhealthy conditions –  or on a human life.

“Cost benefit analysis is a black box, no matter who is practicing it,” said  Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform.

Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute  of Technology, agreed that any regulation that doesn’t properly account for  benefits “distorts the picture.”

But Greenstone suggests that the system’s flaws are rooted in its basic  structure: namely that there is no systematic process to rid the government of  regulatory dead weight.

While new rules are continuously added, “we don’t take them off the books,”  he said.

Since Jimmy Carter, presidents have asked agencies to review their own rules  and get rid of the useless ones.

But a 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office highlighted a  number of problems with those reviews, including lack of funding, time  constraints and evaluations that sometimes overlap.

President Obama revisited the issue in 2011, ordering a more aggressive  government-wide search for regulations that could be consolidated, scaled back  or repealed. The White House has said that those efforts have led to hundreds of  new regulatory reform ideas, just a handful of which would save up to $10  billion.

Greenstone called the initiative, “an incredibly important and revolutionary  first step,” but suggested it be taken further via establishment of a new  nonpartisan panel to review regulations.

Akin to the Congressional Budget Office, the body would be removed from  politics and would offer an alternative to the “self-evaluation” of regulations  taking place at the agencies.

Greenstone, who pitched the plan during recent testimony before the  House-Senate Joint Economic Committee, estimated it would cost less than $20  million to enact.

“We’re talking about a very small amount of money,” he told The Hill. “It  just seems like a good investment.”

Carew, of the Progressive Policy Institute, is pressing lawmakers to embrace  a similar plan.

Her organization has been in contact with Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Roy  Blunt (R-Mo.), who have introduced a bill that would create an independent  commission to review old rules.

Under the legislation, known as the Regulatory Improvement Act, the panel  would then send to Congress a list of regulations to consolidate, streamline or  repeal. As part of the legislation, lawmakers would be unable to amend the  recommendations before voting on them.

But that proposal, too, has drawn its detractors.

Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate with the pro-regulation Public  Citizen, said that the outside commission would likely just be a way to kill old  rules without strengthening current ones.

“It is just kind of a one-way ratchet to repeal rules rather than look at  areas, demonstrated by recent deregulatory failures, that need strengthening,”  he said, noting events like the recent explosion of a fertilizer facility in  West, Texas, that might have been prevented by extra regulations.

Chances for regulatory reform, he admitted, seem bleak.

“It is a very politically charged, kind of partisan area of public policy,  and I don’t think that there exist very many consensus ideas to improve the  regulatory process because agreement on what needs to be improved is hard to  reach, frankly,” he said.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/regwatch/other/319715-regulation-nation-proposals-abound-but-no-consensus-for-regulatory-reform#ixzz2dpy53FIA Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook

3 responses


    1. Senator_Blutarsky

      and some people have wondered why I have beaten the drums for TERM LIMITS, for any and every elected office- city, county, state, school board, water board , you name it.

      Same should apply to the privileged, coiffured “appointments” to assorted commissions and boards of all types as well.

      Lets add “staffers” as well. There needs to be a house cleaning in Austin & DC of any and every legislative staff member, most of whom as just as cozy with Lobbyists as the actual elected puppet for any particular office.

      America does NOT have a government ” of, by and for the people “, at any level without clear limits and restrictions of its office holders.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. The problem is this: Those same elected officials who have gotten so used to a government check are the only ones who can enact term limits and they value their cushy jobs too much to do that.
        The only lasting, sure solution to local term limits is for Texas to come into the 20th century with 24 other states and enact Inititiative and Referendum Laws with Recall rights included. Our neighboring states, which every native Texan loves to make fun of, ALL have I&R and All of them have term limits enacted by the citizens of those states, for the express purpose of getting rid of bad politicians without waiting for an election cycle and hoping they will get defeated. Nothing in this world is as hard as defeating an incumbent politician.
        Don’t think so? Ask Chuck Bradley or Mike Brasovan.

%d bloggers like this: