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Obama orders all fed agencies to review regulations

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President Obama on Tuesday ordered every federal agency to conduct a systematic review of existing regulations, a concerted effort to banish red tape at a time when the administration is eager to promote economic growth and to repair its fractured relations with the business community.

With a new executive order and two presidential memorandums, Obama laid out a regulatory strategy that aims to walk the fine line between protecting public health and safety and freeing business to pursue profits. Many of its principles are already in use, senior administration officials said. But the formal order puts agencies across the government on notice that, when making new rules, they must avoid “unreasonable burdens on business,” as Obama put it in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal.

“Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government,” Obama wrote. “This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.”

Business groups, such as the Business Roundtable, have been calling for months for such a review.

Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the move was a positive first step, but he added that the administration needs to do more for the business community.

“Congress should reclaim some of the authority it has delegated to the agencies and implement effective checks and balances on agency power ... ” he said, “repealing or replacing outdated or ineffective regulations, ensuring realistic cost-benefit analyses using quality data.” He said the review should include the recently enacted health care and financial reform laws.

Republicans in Congress generally praised the order but also urged Obama to do more to assist business.

“Today’s Executive Order from President Obama shows that he heard the same message I did in the last election – that Americans are sick and tired of Washington’s excessive overreach and overspending,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement. “While I applaud his efforts on this new Executive Order today, we must go further.”

Senior administration officials said Obama has given agencies 120 days to create a plan for reviewing regulations. The order also lays out a set of principles for adopting new rules, including that agencies “must consider costs and benefits and choose the least burdensome path.”

In the Wall Street Journal piece, Obama cited several models he wants to see agencies follow, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s elimination of a rule last month that required companies to treat the artificial sweetener saccharin like other dangerous chemicals. He also cited collaboration between the EPA and the Department of Transportation last year to “turn a tangle of rules” on fuel efficiency “into one aggressive new standard.”

And this week, Obama wrote, “the FDA will lay out a new effort to improve the process for approving medical devices, to keep patients safer while getting innovative and life-saving products to market faster.”

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