The Carter administration's newly created Regulatory Council is rapidly becoming the focal point of a controversy over bringing traditional corporate management techniques to government regulations.
Peter Petkas, just appointed as director of the council staff, is working with the Office of Management and Budget to convince the various regulators that it will be better for all if they work together toward common goals.
The appointment of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Douglas Costle to head the Regulatory Council was no accident. EPA leads the pack in establishing traditional management practices as a way of life. And WPA was one of the first agencies to publicly cut existing standards that it found to be noncost-effective.
"We have learned a lot from EPA," one administration official said. "We are beginning to understand that we must have alternaproposed fuel economy standards or safety requirements were inflationary and difficult to reach, the administration might be willing to have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration back down a bit on these standards in exchange for industry cooperation with EPA efforts to force automakers to produce cleaner cars.
Although the White House has direct control over dozens of executive branch agencies such as NHTSA and the Food & Drug Administration, it does not have similar control over independents such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Commission, except in the presidential appointment of the commission members and chairmen themselves.
At least some regulators are less than thrilled about yielding any of their power to the White House, and claim they have constitutional protection from White House intervention.
"Regulation ought to be a group effort, not confrontational -- espectives to every proposal, and be able to see what the most efficient ways are of accomplishing our objectives."
But the heart of the administration's long-term plan, and the aspect viewed by regulators with the most skepticism, is an attempt by the White House to assume a new coordinating role in all regulatory policy.
"We must realize that we have limited resources in every area," said one OMB official. "As it stands now, regulatory agency heads have had a great deal of power, and by the time the president gets involved in an issue, it is too little and too late."
Under an ideal system, "Agencies will have an incentive to work with each other in what should be a group effort that conforms with administration thinking," the official said. "As we begin to manage better, the administration will also realize political gains."
The key is a system of trade-offs involving all executive branch agencies and as many of the independent agencies that will go along, he added. If, for example, the auto industry claimed that ially now, at a time when it has come under the strongest attack from industry," one White House staffer said.
By putting representatives from 34 agencies on the Regulatory Council, President Carter virtually ordered the agencies to work together for more efficient regulation and less overlapping and inefficiency.
The first product of the council -- a calender of all pending federal regulation proposals -- is expected to be published in February and will give the administration its first overall picture of what is has to bargain with.
"We are trying to head off an Armaggedon," one administration official said. "The agencies are beginning to realize that, in the end, this system is better for everyone. We are not trying to repeal the Clean Air Act or end automobile safety regulation. But we are trying to get a grip on just how much money we have, and what can best realistically be accomplished with those resources."
In some cases, the answer is just to put something off a year or two, he added. The plan "will also give industry a fair shake because they will be able to deal with us on the same level. Since they have always complained of contradictory regulations from different government agencies, they will have a chance to participate better in the regulatory process and work with the government for everyone's benefit, to come up with the best overall approach to regulatory problems."
A crucial cog in the White House plan to coordinate regulation is the development of a new data base that can be used to analyze the impact of proposed and current regulations.
"Economic analysis available to us is generally bad," the OMB source said. "We are trying to develop a system of analyzing both costs of compliance and competitive effects of regulations. We also want to be able to use sophisticated risk analysis that can tell us what our chances are of achieving the purpose of a certain proposed regulation. In addition, we want to have good data on the health effects of our actions."
The administration is only just begining to develop such a data base, administration sources said. "We have to take baby steps," one added.
"We have a major problem with valuable data that is already gathered by some agencies -- like the Census Bureau -- but not available to others because of confidentiality statutes.
"We hope to develop statistical enclaves," the OMB source continued. "Where we can have certain agencies share confidential data, that will remain confidential within the scope of those agencies."
As to getting the reluctant agencies to participate with the administration -- and in the process give up some of their power -- the administration has some leverage.
"We can effect personnel allocations and we have public opinion," the OMB source said. "Most people perceive government as pretty screwed up when it comes to regulation.
"But the point is, that in Washington the biggest incentive is to do what the president wants done. That's what gets the cookies in the cabinet meetings," he added.