Seeking to fulfill one of his major campaign promises, President Carter yesterday signed an executive order designed to improve procedures of the federal regulatory bureaucracy.
"To many citizens who have to deal with it on a regualar basis, the federal government has become like a foreign country, complete with its own interests and its own language," said Carter, speaking to a group of agency heads at the White House signing ceremony.
The president's order applies to executive branch agencies, such as the Commerce Department and the Food and drug Administration, which are responsible for most of the federal regulations written each year.
Exempted from the order, however, are the major independent regulatory agencies - including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Interstate Commerce Commission and Federal Trade Commission. Leading members of Congress and top officials of the independent agencies had urged that they be exempted because they were established by Congress and are subject to oversight by Capitol Hill.
Taking note of the exemption for some key commissions, Carter said he is "confident that efforts of executive agencies to carry out this lorder will be matched by similar efforts on the part of the independent regulatory agencies."
Indeed, many of the mandates included in the executive order already have been addressed by new Carter-appointed chairmen at several of the independent agencies - particularly the ICC, FTC, Civil Aeronautics Board and Federal Communications Commission.
As outlined by Carter, the main provisions of his order would:
Direct that regulations be written in "plain English." Noting that most government rules are written by experts for experts, the president said his order includes a "clear mandate" to translate regulations into language a small business person can understand.
Provide for more lpublic linvolvement in the regulatory process.Executive agencies must issue early announcements about significant regulatory action that is being considered and provide a name and telephone number of a specific government individual who can handle public inquiries.
Require that agency heads the "personally and clearly accountable" for regulations lbeing considered and "be satisfied that feasible alternatives forms of regulations to be maintained.
Establish early economic assessments of proposed regulations to determine future impact to opposed to earlier attempts at economiic impact statements - documents often drawn up to justify regulations after decisions were made.
Mandate systematic reviews of existing regulations to encourage elimination of unnecessary rules and reforms of egulations to be maintained.
"I came to Washington to reorganize a federal government which had grown more preoccupied with its own bureaucratic needs than with those of the people," Carter said. "This executive order is an instrument for reversing this trend."
The Carter order yesterday culminated a drive aimed at regulatory reform that gained initial momentum under former President Ford. Ford had held a regulatory summit conference and ordered agencies to issue economic impact statements, an order which was largely ignored.
Administration officials yesterday conceded that regulatory reforms will not take place overnight, but they noted that Carter has made a personal commitment to stay on top of the issue.
In a handwritten message to James T. McIntyre, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Carter said of the regulatory reform effort, "Jim: Devote top effort to enforcement. I will help you personally. J.C."
According to Stanley E. Morris, deputy associate director of OMB, enforcement will be accomplished under a requirement that all agencies alter existing procedures to comply with the president 's order. Proposed internal procedures to accomplish changes must be published within 60 days, after which the public may comment for another 60-day period.
"We will try not to race into this . . . turning around the behavior of large bureautic agencies can't be done in a week," Morris said. As a first step, a group of government workers familiar with the reorganization effort will be sent to the various agencies to help write new procedures that will comply with the order.
Morris said Carter's order represents a significant advance over earlier efforts at controlling the growth of federal regulation by forcing decisions to be mase "up at the top," by agency officers with a sense of politics and not by lower-level bureaucrats, any be seeking to get broad public involvement.
At the same time, Morris noted that all federal agency workers must become involved in the reordering of regulatory priorities if the changes are to be permanent.
He said the administration will monitor the extent to which independent agencies follow the president's order. If the independent agencies do not launch similar efforts, the president would consider legislation to force such changes or could replace chairmen at most of the agencies, Morris said.
"Outside the Beltway, the American people don't make a distinction between independent and non-independent agencies and the American government," Morris said. Of Capitol Hill, several senators are mulling over proposed legislation that would require independent agencies to meet most of the executive order mandates.