The Bush administration's annual report on the costs and benefits of regulation can be read as a blueprint to an eight-year effort to substantially change the role of regulation in the federal government. Released just before Christmas, it lists 189 rules in the manufacturing sector that 41 different groups suggested were ripe for tweaking, removal or a new approach. That makes the report a prime source of intelligence on the priorities of Bush rules overseers.
"There is a four-year document trail that lays out regulatory reform care of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. You will not get a better road map of it than what John Graham's office has put together," said Thomas M. Sullivan, chief counsel for the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, which was created to defend the interests of small business.
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If that isn't enough, OIRA has also been seeking suggestions from some business groups on proposed legislative changes to add permanence to the effort to reshape the regulatory landscape. For instance, officials at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said they met Dec. 15 with John D. Graham, head of OIRA, and discussed legislation that would allow judicial review of agency decisions made under the law that allows outside parties to challenge the data agencies use in rulemaking. The National Federation of Independent Business also was consulted, officials said.
Also under discussion is turning some of the principles in presidential executive orders, such as cost-benefit analysis of rules, into laws. "It would make it more difficult for a new president to come in and get rid of the regulatory review process," said Lawrence A. Fineran, vice president of regulatory and competition policy for the National Association of Manufacturers.
Since Graham's office first asked for rules to review, it has received 576 nominations, mostly from business groups, and agencies have acted on 135 of those with proposals or final rules. The latest round was sent to federal agencies for review. According to the report, their responses were due at the Office of Management and Budget yesterday and must include a determination of whether the "reform action is appropriate and, if so, a proposed time line for action and a plan for public participation."
On the latest wish list, for example, Deere & Co. asked that all government regulatory activities be privatized, including the development and enforcement of rules. It also wants the Environmental Protection Agency to involve business and industry coalitions in its rulemakings. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers wants the EPA to rethink its "unrealistic goal" of cleaning up all groundwater. The American Furniture Manufacturers Association asked for changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act rules. NAM said that the Interior Department should tighten its procedures for listing endangered species because they are inhibiting its ability to conduct business.
Most of the changes have been suggested, or supported, by business, leaving industry thrilled and consumer groups outraged.
"We would like to see some good come out of this and have some of the regulations that groups agreed on be changed and [made] more workable," said NAM's Fineran.
"This is audacious and really disheartening," countered J. Robert Shull, senior regulatory policy analyst at OMB Watch, a public advocacy group that monitors regulation. "This whole formal process means these hit lists are here to stay."
The administration said it will announce its priorities for changes in February after it reviews the responses from the agencies. "For the next four years, we plan to accelerate progress in reforming rules that are outmoded, inefficient or unnecessary," Graham said in an e-mail. "Our goal is to help business and workers become more productive and competitive while safeguarding public health and the environment. Heavily regulated sectors, such as manufacturing, health care and transportation will receive priority attention."