Bush order on government regulation stirs debate

By Tabassum Zakaria
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 4:28 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An order signed by President George W. Bush on the oversight of thousands of government regulations issued every year was praised by business as a step toward controlling an unwieldy process but criticized by others as potentially a loser for consumers.

The White House said the executive order signed by Bush on January 18 makes a senior official in each agency accountable for the regulations it issues and provides greater openness by ensuring that "guidance" documents issued to businesses are available to the public.

Business groups say the order should help businesses which have to wade through a myriad of regulations, sometimes conflicting ones from different agencies, by making one person in each agency in charge of overseeing the regulations issued.

Consumer groups say the public would lose out because the order could slow the process by which regulations in the public interest such as pollution controls would be issued, and puts the process under the control of an official appointed by the president.

Jeffrey Rosen, counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, called the criticism a "mistaken argument" and said the basic regulatory process in the order has been in place over both Democratic and Republican administrations.

"The basic framework is the same," he said of the order which amended an order issued by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

"This is just another tool for industry and their allies in the Bush White House to slow down and prevent agencies from getting things done to protect the public," said Robert Shull, deputy director for auto safety and regulatory policy at Public Citizen.

The order requires agencies use a standard of "market failure," which means determining whether private markets can correct a social problem like pollution on their own, in deciding whether government needs to step in, he said.

Shull said that was too high a bar to meet as the new Democratic-controlled Congress prepares to take on issues like global warming and fuel economy.

Rosen said the new order better defines the term market failure from Clinton's order. On consumer advocate concerns like pollution, "the clarification actually helps," because it would be a legitimate basis for regulation, he said.

Consumer groups expressed concern about the order's requirement that the regulatory oversight officer at the agencies be appointed by the president.

"This is really just another way of the White House getting its fingers in all of the agencies, manipulating all of their policies and all of their priorities in a way that Congress never intended," Shull said.

Rosen said it meant more accountability. "If you want to know who's responsible for regulatory decisions, here's who it is and it's a presidential appointee, meaning it's somebody very senior," he said. "It's a way of identifying some accountability."

The regulatory process puts out about 4,000 regulations every year in addition to the 192,000 regulations that exist, said Bill Kovacs, vice president of regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Imagine yourself being a small business and trying to comply on any given day with labor standards, health standards, pension standards, environmental standards," Kovacs said. "So people are trying to find some way to get control over the process."

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