Business Groups Jump at Chance to Scratch Regulatory Itches
By Cindy Skrzycki
Tuesday, June 15, 2004; Page E01
For business, it is another opportunity to create an inventory of regulatory irritants.
Responding to a third Bush administration call for nominations to "reform" regulations -- this time with a focus on rules affecting manufacturing -- various business groups have sent wish lists to the Office of Management and Budget in the past few weeks on what they want to change, eliminate or update.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has submitted more than two dozen proposals to OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, with several aimed at changes in the Family and Medical Leave Act, including what qualifies as a "serious medical condition."
The National Association of Manufacturers wants lots of "little fixes," said Lawrence A. Fineran, its vice president of regulatory and competitive policy. One is an update to a 1969 Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard that stipulates how to use flammable liquids in spray applications for boatbuilding. "This 'nitpick' calls for a prompt letter [to OSHA] and the NAM strongly urges OIRA to send one," said the NAM comments. The trade group also submitted requests for changes to seven major rules, including those implementing the family and medical leave law.
The National Federation of Independent Business wants OSHA to make it easier for small businesses to know when they need to make changes in labeling chemicals and in training workers in how to handle them. It also wants a rulemaking to define what constitutes a wetland, which determines whether companies have to apply for permits to discharge pollutants.
Public interest groups, not surprisingly, have an entirely different view of the Bush administration's invitation to help houseclean the government's regulatory closet. They are in an uproar over the compilation, calling it a regulatory "hit list," and they charge that centering the initiative on manufacturing is an election-year ploy to blame job losses on regulation.
"What OMB has become for business is the special-interest pleader. Each company and industry has its own set of particular [rules] they don't want," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a consumer group. In its comments, Public Citizen listed protections that the administration should consider implementing -- rather than discarding -- in the areas of food, auto, drug and workplace safety.
Lisa E. Heinzerling, professor of law at Georgetown University and a critic of putting a price tag on regulation, said the administration is "pandering" to manufacturers in an election year. "They targeted manufacturing and said, 'Come to us with your woes.' "
OIRA asked for the comments last February as part of preparing an annual report to Congress summarizing the costs and benefits of federal regulation. So far, OMB has received more than 100 nominations from dozens of groups and individuals.
In its call for candidates, OIRA said it wanted to examine rules that might need to be modernized to "reduce costs, increase effectiveness and enhance the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers."
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