Former President Gerald R. Ford yesterday warned that an opportunity to achieve significant reform of government regulation may be "slipping away."
In luncheon address before an American Enterprise Institute conference on regulation reform he also predicted that "unless recent trends are reversed, the extent of regulation is sure to increase in the years ahead."
Ford, looking tanned an rested, complained that various regulatory reform initiatives - some of them begun in his own administration - had yielded "insufficient resuits."
While he didn't specifically mention the Carter administration, he pointedly contrasted what he believed to be the mood when he was leaving office with what he preceives today.
"A year ago in Washington the climate was rapidly changing in favor of the greater regulatory reform," he said. "We were literally on the threshold of several major, breakthroughs. But today - only one year later - that marvelous opportunity may be slipping away from us."
Although he blamed some of the problem on the congressional committees are structured. Ford said his experience has led him to believe that the "sucess" of reform efforts depends on four essential elements:
The administration in power organizing a task force of high level appointees to tackle the issue on a sustematic, continuing basis, with every agency "fully behind the reform effort."
The President taking a "strong, consistent public stance" on regulatory reform matters. "As you know, no President can rally the country on more than a handful of issues at a time," he said. "If regulatory reform is not among them, you can give up on any hopes of any substantial reform."
Mobilizing a broad coalition drawn from liberal and conservative groups in favor to support the reform movement. Public pressure must be brought to bear in such a way that it weakens the effect of one of three groups that consistently oppose change - the Congress, the bureaucracy and the interest groups, he explained.
Addressing a package of reform measures as a unit rather than a peicemeal approach. This measure, such as one Ford proposed and one currently being considered, would require that the President submit a comprehensive reform plan for a segment of industry each year. If action isn't taken by the appropriate congressional committees within a certain period of time, the proposals would become the pending business on the floor of each chamber.
This approach would make it easier for the President to mobilize the public in support of reform and more difficult for vested interests to block action, Ford said.
In an off-the-cuff remark Ford, who is a distinguished fellow of AEI, took a special swipe at the Interstate Commerce Commission, which he called the "worst operated, least effective" of any agency in Washington."I just wanted to get that off my chest," he said.
Ford's address was part of an all-day conference on regulation sponsored by AEI, which also featured a panel of to less than 14 former regulators, government administrators, economists and lawyers, many of whom served in the Ford administration. The panelists were split on all major questions, including how much reform has been accomplished, what is left to do, and how it should be done.
In an assessment of regulatory reform efforts, AEI resident scholar James C. Miller III, who served as assistant director of the Council on Wage and Price Stability during part of the Ford administration, noted with some pleasure the passage of legislation deregulating the air cargo industry, new congressional initiatives into some areas such as trucking, and some Carter appointments such as Alfred Kahn to head the Civil Aeronauties Board.
Be he also complained about "rather significant efforts toward more regulation" and the "gutting" of what was a required inflationary or economic impact statement for actions taken by agencies.
He also worried that some efforts, such as writing regulations more clearly, were misdirected. "I'm concerned that we'll get rid of some gnats that fly around our face, and not the beast that eats us alive," Miller said.