Top 10 Rules the SBA Doesn't Like

By Cindy Skrzycki
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Clarifying what "oil" is, updating mine standards for handling explosives, allowing more recycling of electroplating sludge. While these topics aren't exactly grist for David Letterman, you will find them in a "Top 10" list -- the rule changes U.S. small-business owners most want during the Bush administration's last year in office.

The list, issued Feb. 28 by the Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration from industry nominations, marks the third time since 2001 that the Bush administration has asked for recommendations on which federal mandates to modify. As usual, public-interest groups attack the process as favoritism toward business and "catering to anti-regulatory lobbyists."

"This has allowed industry lobbying groups to prioritize the rules they want rolled back," Matthew Madia, a regulatory policy analyst with OMB Watch, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors regulatory policy, said of the list. "It's a last-minute attempt to make sure their voice is heard."

Nonsense, says Thomas Sullivan, chief counsel for advocacy at the SBA, whose independent office winnowed the Top 10 from 82 suggestions submitted by business groups and individuals. He sees the effort not so much as a sprint to beat President Bush out of town next January as a way to tee up key issues for review by a new administration of either party.

"These nominations for review and reform will take several years to accomplish," Sullivan said. One seeks variances for water systems in small communities to meet rules on safe drinking water. Another asks the Federal Aviation Administration to reconsider airspace limitations imposed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that are hurting small airports.

The National Paint & Coatings Association in Washington wants the Environmental Protection Agency to spell out what "oil" is for rules governing oil spills, with an eye to excluding 10,000 small facilities that don't make petroleum-based oil products.

The Top 10 list might resonate with Sen. John McCain if he wins the White House in November. The presumptive Republican nominee incorporates a call for "less regulation" in his speeches.

A Democrat in the White House might be a different story.

Sally Katzen, who ran regulatory review at the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, said a change of party means a change of regulatory plans.

"When a new administration comes in, it will typically have its own priorities -- informed during the transition period by its supporters and their preferences," Katzen said. "Certainly, when George W. Bush took the oath of office, anything in the works that had 'Clinton' on it was highly suspect and presumed to be wrong-headed."

The Bush White House first asked business groups in 2001 for rules to change. Susan Dudley, current head of the OMB office, said the 2004 solicitation received 189 nominations. Of those, 76 were selected as "priorities" for the agencies and close to 60 have been modified.

There is enough time left for agencies to address at least some of the nominations if they act quickly.

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