It is too early to provide a comprehensive assessment of the Carter administration's efforts to modernize sluggish federal economic regulation.
But it is apparent that deregulation has a lower priority at the White House than when Gerald R. Ford was that residence's principal occupant.
It terms of a commitment from Jimmy Carter, a message to Congress last March 4 could not have been more clear.
"One of my administration's major goals is to free the American people from the burden of overregulation. We must look, industry by industry, at what effect regulation has - whether it protects the public interest or whether it simply blunts the healthy forces of competition, inflates prices and discourages business innovation. Whenever it seems likely that the free market would better serve the public, we will eliminate government regulation."
Despite that bold statement, however, the current administration has not launched what could be called a bold initiative on regulariory matters. The revoluntionary proposals to curtail Civil Aeronautics Board controls over U.S. airlines - which may be voted out of the Senate Commerce Committee today or in the near future - have the support of Carter but largely represents work started by members of Congress and officials of the previous administration.
Another favorite tonic of deregulation proponents, Interstate Commerce Commission rules that tend to discourage entry into the trucking business, is on the Carter back burner.
Administration and Democratic congressional leaders hope the ICC will adopt enough reforms on its own in this area to make legislative action unnecessary - which also happens to be the goal of that agency's new chairman, Dan O'Neal.
Carter is expected to issue an executive order next month, requiring exeuctive branch agencies to eliminate unnecessary or duplicative orders. And the President is expected to meet with independent regulatory agency chairmen to seek their compliance.
But Former President Ford tried a similar approach at a regulatory agency summit meeting without much subsequent success, in terms of evident changes.
As one unidentified former Ford aide told David R. Gergen, in an article in the new magazine, Regulation:
"We've reached the point where it is unrealistic to think that a President can simply roll back the tide of regulations that has swept over us. The most we can hope for now is to prevent a surge of new ones, and even that is going to take extremely dedicated, persistent leadership from the White House."
While there are some doubts among deregulators about Carter's persistence in this regard, the President evidently has been successful in one important area: The translation of regulatory nonsense into the English language, with a goal of eliminating unneccessary paperwork.
Carter emphasized to his aides from the start a strong belief that language must be simplified and some regulatory officials have listened. Carter's CAB chairman, Alfred E. Kahn, attracted popular attention last July when he attacked the "disease of gobbledy-gook. At the ICC, Chairman O'Neal set up a "gobbledygook committee" and declared to his 2,000 employees: "English is a remarkably clear, flexible and useful language."
U.S. Sen. S. I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.), who is a linguist, says he is collecting the "most flagrant" examples he can find of the lack of plain speaking in Washington and plans a counterattack - maybe with a "Gobbledygook Golden Fleece of the Month" to rival colleague William Proxmire?
All of this comeas no surprise to a Cleveland businessman. Albert Joseph, who began to hire out his services as a teacher of clear writing a dozen years ago. His company, Industrial Writing Institute, started out with a contract from Republic Steel to teach personnel basic writing.
Various government agencies discovered his program and in the past decade. Joseph's firm has taught writing to some 4,500 federal employees - including workers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
In an interview, Joseph said the major writing flaw he has discovered is "over-complication." As a consequence, federal pronouncements often have been embarrassing. Instead if stating simply, "Please kill the weeds around the building," Joseph said U.S. officials are bound to write: "Management has become cognizant of the necessity of eliminating undesirable vegetation surrounding the periphery of the facility."
Joseph says the writing faults of government are about on the same level as those of business and the academic world. To combat these ills. Joseph teaches eight two-hour sessions, one week apart. Government officials with employees who are taking the courses, in increasing numbers under the Carter mandate, have been enthusiastic.