The Reagan administration, armed with a mandate to curtail the federal regulatory burden on business, is primed to make a potentially lasting imprint on the activities of dozens of executive branch and independent agencies.
Through the appointments process, the use of executive order and in the legislative arena, the new administration may have an unprecedented chance to reshape the regulatory process and the agencies that enforce the nation's consumer, energy, communications, environmental, health and safety, antitrust, securities and transportation laws, to name a few.
Little is known about Reagan's plans for the regulatory world other than his historic criticism of federal agencies and the certainty that a breed of regulators, ideologically far different than the individuals who filled key regulatory posts during the Carter administration, will come to power.
Gone from top administration and agency chairmanship posts will be Assistant Agriculture Secretary Carol Foreman; Michael Pertschuk, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission; Federal Communications Commission Chairman Charles Ferris; Joan Claybrook, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; and Eula Bingham, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Although Carter appointees to independent agencies can remain commissioners, Reagan can appoint, within his first year in office, chairmen to virtually all the key regulatory agencies. Pertschuk, for example, has said he is likely to remain, although Ferris' plans are less certain.
Reagan is likely to get an opportunity to name immediately a new FCC member as chairman, but he cannot appoint a new member of the FTC until the fall. He could, however, name one of the two sitting Republicans on the FTC to the post.
Throughout the executive branch, the Claybrooks and Binghams, products of the liberal activist years that produced a rash of new consumer and worker-protection statutes and agencies, are certain to be replaced by a new breed of business activist, far more concerned about questions like the regulatory drain on productivity, often articulated by antiregulatory gurus like former Treasury secretary William Simon.
And that is a view that, according to the Harris Poll, is shared by 77 percent of the public who agree that an important cause of lowered productivity is "excessive government regulation."
The new regulators may focus on some dismantling of the capital's regulatory apparatus, but they are certain to bring ever greater attention than the Carter administration in questions of the costs and benefits of environmental and health and safety regulation, in particular.
"The major things they're committed to are fundamental tasks that need to be resolved: more cost-effective regulation and making top management of regulatory agencies more concerned with the balances they have to make," says Jeffrey Joseph, a regulatory analyst with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Carter administration has supported legislative and agency efforts to lessen regulation over the transportation, communications and banking industries; took strides in bringing regulatory agencies under the umbrella of the U.S. Regulatory Council; and under an executive order forced executive branch agencies to consider the costs of new programs. The Reagan team can be expected to take those initiatives even further.
Although a set of task forces is working on the new administration's regulatory agenda, little is known about the products of those panels. But Reagan is on the record in a position paper as supporting a series of across-the-board regulatory aims including:
Replacing "restrictive" regulations with "more flexible performance standards." Some of that type of reregulation has been undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Requiring all regulation to be backed by a "through cost-benefit analysis," a concept that is controversial even among conservative economists in light of the difficulties of measuring the benefits of work-place safety regulation, for example.
Support for an annual regulatory budget that would be reviewed by Congress along the lines of the federal budget.
Support for sunset and congressional-veto legislation, plans that would result in the automatic expiration of federal rules and permit either the House or the Senate to veto new rules while granting increased presidential authority to veto regulations. Although there is a split in the Reagan camp about the legislative veto, a Reagan endorsement would make him the first president in history to support it.
The administration is likely to support some form of broad regulatory reform legislation. Backed by a Republican Senate, chances for such a package may be good. In fact, Reagan's closest Senate ally, Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), chairs a new Judiciary subcommittee on regulatory reform and has supported previous efforts to enact a congressional veto over new federal rules.
Reagan is also on record as favoring increased state government power in the environmental area, in particular. "We need to return to the states the primary responsibility for environmental regulation and thus increase responsiveness to local conditions," Reagan has written.
The chairman of one of Reagan's task forces on regulation, Murray Weidenbaum, a former Treasury department official in the Nixon administration, even recommends a one-year moratorium on all new federal regulations to give the nation a "breather" from the rush of regulation of the last decade.
Although it is uncertain whether such a recommendation is politically or legally feasible, agencies such as the EPA and the OSHA are likely to slow down dramatically. Says Rep. David Stockman, now director-designate of the Office of Management and Budget: "They've [EPA] got rules that would practically shut down the economy if they were put into effect."
The Clean Air Act, the focus of much of the criticism of EPA, will come under full-scale review almost immediately in the new Congress. That effort may test both the administration's intent and its congressional clout.
Whether Reagan goes through with his campaign pledge to abolish the Department of Energy also will be a major test.
Reagan has said very little on his view of antitrust law, although he has said that he favors trimming the FTC's powers, a view he put forth in blasting the commission's effort to break up the nation's cereal industry.
Somewhat vaguely, Reagan said he would "support legislation which prevents the FTC from becoming the arbiter of consumer tastes and preferences." More specifically, he said he also would support legislation that would "narrow divestiture authority under Section 5 and would detail specific remedies available to the commission under that section of the FTC Act."
Historically, legal scholars say Republican administrations have generally administered tougher antitrust programs than their Democratic counterparts.
In the transportation regulation field, Reagan's plans are less clear. He has significant appointment opportunities at the Interstate Commerce Commission, although the administration cannot adjust the membership of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Marvin Cohen is expected to remain as chairman until his term ends in December. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 lays out the board's procedures, and its authority over domestic routes stops at the end of this year, while its authority over rules ends a year later.
The new Fcc faces a host of tough broadcasting issues and could backtrack on Ferris initiatives, such as those which proposed permitting low-power television stations, a likely target of broadcast industry lobbying.
In a campaign speech that created headlines because Reagan claimed just before flying into smog-bound Los Angeles that air pollution "has been substantially controlled," he also said that the government "must help protect the health and safety of workers and consumers and the quality of our environment. These are areas where federal regulation is not only appropriate, but necessary," he added.
But in that statement lies the difficulty the new president faces. Immediately after that statement he issued the conventional right-wing criticism of regulation.
"We must recognize that many regulations impair the ability of industries to compete, reduce workers' real income and destroy jobs," Reagan said. "Therefore, we must have a balanced regulatory approach in which we recognize that regulations have costs as well as benefits."
In finding that balance, Reagan faces a difficult task.