The Reagan administration yesterday released the first results of its stepped-up campaign to slash government regulation of industry.
The 600-page document outlined plans of 17 federal agencies to deal with problems ranging from air quality to pizza standards over the next six months. But the report drew immediate criticism from both Congress and public advocacy groups for what it lacks rather than what it includes.
The document reflects the results of an executive order issued last January by President Reagan requiring the Office of Management and Budget to review all federal regulatory plans -- from preliminary studies to official rulemaking -- "for consistency with administration principles."
The president, in a preface to the report, said the program outlined yesterday documents the administration's efforts "to manage federal regulatory programs" in a way that should increase their consistency and accountability. "My goal remains to have a government that regulates only where necessary and as efficiently and fairly as possible," Reagan said.
Reagan said his executive order was designed "to see that the laws are faithfully executed and that the policies of this administration are reflected in the regulations issued under those laws."
Critics say the order usurps Congress' role in overseeing federal regulatory agencies and precludes public discussion of regulatory plans. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) wrote Reagan in July and said, "Might I respectfully suggest that OMB give more consideration to whether decisions are consistent with the intent of the law, and less with the consistency of those decisions with some nonstatutory program."
Vice President George Bush, chairman of the administration's task force on regulatory relief, said yesterday that the regulatory program does not usurp congressional authority.
"It does nothing of the kind. Stripped to its essentials, the program does no more or less than improve the ability of an elected president to discuss what is going on in the Executive Branch with his Cabinet appointees," Bush said.
The departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency account for about two-thirds of the 554 significant regulatory actions listed in the document.
"What's significant is what is not in there -- all the things the agencies sent over to OMB that OMB said was not consistent with the president's program," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a research and advocacy organization for groups concerned with access to OMB.
Robert Bedell, deputy administrator of OMB's office of information and regulatory affairs, yesterday defended the role of his agency. OMB is empowered to review agency regulatory plans and can question them if they seem too costly or too cumbersome or otherwise objectionable, he said. But OMB cannot simply cancel a program.
For example, Bedell said, the Public Health Service of HHS told OMB that it wanted to study the effects of recent budget cuts on infant mortality rates. OMB questioned the costs and purposes of the study but did not receive answers to its questions. "HHS never raised the issue again," he said.
OMB Watch said the process gives OMB "new power to change or veto federal policies and programs without Congress or the public even knowing about it" and is "primarily a political tool for controlling agencies."
Bedell said that in another case, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had proposed a rule to set certain safety standards for oil and gas drilling operations. OMB believed OSHA had underestimated the costs of the regulation by several hundred million dollars a year, and had included "overly specific" requirements that may not be feasible, he said. OMB worked with OSHA to achieve "a unified administration position" on such regulation, and the two have developed a "better proposal," he said.
The Reagan administration argues that the process preempts regulations that may impose greater costs than benefits on society.