The tables have turned for James C. Miller III, the new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.
Before joining the commission in September, Miller was the administration's regulatory czar, using his post at the Office of Management and Budget to scrutinize almost all new federal rules to see if they were really needed.
Now, in his new role, Miller is trying to discourage OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from reviewing a recent FTC rule which would require used-car dealers to give consumers more information about the cars the dealers sell.
Late last week Miller sent OMB officials a letter stating the agency's belief that OMB did not have the authority to review the rule as OMB officials have contended.
The rule, approved by the commission in August just weeks before Miller took over, orders used-car dealers to post a one-page "Buyers Guide" on the window of each used car. The guide would tell consumers what warranty coverage the dealer is offering with the car, as well as information on any major defects the dealer knows about the car.
According to OMB officials, the "Buyers Guide" represents an increased paperwork burden on business and therefore must be submitted to OMB for review. In a recent letter to the FTC, OMB officials argued that such a review was mandated under the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act.
The law, enacted to "reduce paperwork and enhance the economy and efficiency of the government and the private sector," gives OMB the power to review all rules, even those issued by the independent agencies such as the FTC, that increase the number of reports and records individuals and businesses have to keep for the government.
In its letter to the FTC, OMB officials said the used-car rule represented an increase in recordkeeping requirements. "When you fill out information, it is recording, even if it is placed on a car and not in a file cabinet," an administration source subsequently explained.
But according to the FTC, the rule does not increase the recordkeeping burden since once the car is purchased, no records need to be kept for the government. FTC officials have told OMB that they believe the "Buyers Guide" is only a label and thus is not subject to OMB review.
However, OMB officials contend that under the Paperwork Reduction Act all federally mandated labels must be subject to OMB review.
The dispute between Miller and the office he once headed is far from settled. In a "spirit of conciliation," Miller made it clear in his letter to OMB that for the moment he was not willing to go to the mat to fight over the rule.
Rather, he asked that a meeting be set up to see "whether the act applies to the rule."