Thomas M.Sullivan, who heads the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, is delighted with the recent announcement by the Bush administration that it would get cracking on an effort to make federal agencies more responsive to businesses and others who want to see changes or repeal of federal regulations.
Last year, the administration asked for suggestions for the "reform" of regulations that have particular impact on the manufacturing sector and small business. The Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for the initiative, got 189 recommendations, mostly from business and mainly centering on rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor.
Business groups were eager to see their nominations picked for further action in the report OMB issued on March 9, especially since they say previous calls for nominations did not get much response from the agencies.
Said Sullivan: "It's great the OMB is exercising a leadership role and following through. . . . We sent over a list of 48 rules that we thought were high priority, and 27 are in the final report. That's impressive."
The sentiment is shared by members of the business community who are hopeful that, this time, they will get results. But public interest groups have been critical of the process, characterizing it as an industry "hit list" that will weaken environmental, health and safety regulations.
"OMB's report gives us a clear indication of who has the president's ear," said Robert R.M. Verchick, an environmental law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.
The report lists 76 nominations that "have potential merit and justify further action." The prioritizing done by OMB and the federal agencies responsible for the rules gives business something it has been looking for from the administration: feedback and traction on what it sees as regulatory problems, burdens and conundrums.
"Housekeeping" is how William Kovacs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs, characterized the effort. "You go through the government and start cleaning things up. This is a vehicle to do that."
The rules listed include some highly controversial ones such as how many hours truck drivers, especially local delivery drivers, are allowed to be on the road without sleep. Business also won a look at changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act rules, which allow employees to take time off for illness.
Environmental rules to be addressed include how the EPA regulates waste as hazardous material. Companies also want the EPA to "reexamine" its justification for broadening its scrutiny of lead emissions by increasing required reporting to the program that keeps communities informed about the release of pollutants into the environment.