MR. CARTER said on television the other night that he intends to do more about federal government regulations than merely to cut down on them or put them into English - though these are two of his priorities. He also means to make government officials more directly accountable for their handiwork in this field. Thus: "Whenever a regulation is issued, it will carry its author's name. I will also request the Cabinet members to read all regulations personally before they are released." We think the President's concern is richly justified, that he is stressing the right aspects of the problem . . . and that his suggested remedies are not going to work.
There are not enough hours in a lifetime, let alone in a four year term, for Secretary of HEW - say - or Labor to read all the regulations his department is bound to issue, even if those regulations are cut to a minimum. You only need to consider the number of regulations connected with education grants, hospital care, Social Security, wage and pension programs and industrial health and safety to know this is true. In addition, there isn't room on any page we've ever seen for the names of all the assorted gnomes and misanthropes who contribute to each rule. Usually far more than one agency person in involved. And if you wanted to be fair about it and apportion the responsibility precisely, you would also to include the names of the members of Congress who wrought the original (and incomprehensible) legislation in the first place, which the Department often is merely trying to interpret.
Actually, even if there were room for all those names - along with the names of those lobbyists who may have written some part of the law, and those federal judges who may have put the most draconian construction on it - we don't think this kind of name-identification is a very good idea, or one that serves the sound purpose the President has in mind. Accountability, yes. Scapegoating and diluting of authority, no. When a federal regulation is finally approved and issued, it should be understood by the public that will have to abide by its terms as the considered work of the federal government, or at least of the responsible department - not as merely the aberrational work of Manny Glotz of Harriet Hardheart, which is nutty to begin with and why should you and I obey it, anyway? The rules are not the work of individuals. They shouldn't be made to look as if they were.
Over at the Federal Register, efforts (often resisted by the bureaucracy and the lawyer-drafters) have been going forward for several years to simplify and diminish the federal rule output and to eliminate the nameless, faceless aspects of it all. The Register people have already made some progress and are scheduled on April 1 to put into effect further reforms, including requirements that each document published in the Register be accompanied by a preamble which states "in simple language" what the telephone number of an agency person who can be called to give further information.
Those things are a beginning, and our guess is that there are further steps that can be taken to make people in government more mindful of the impact of the rules they promulgate and more accountable for what they do. Mr. Carter's evident keen interest in the matter should, of itself, have a rather bracing effect on the rulemakers. We think the administration aides who are developing his program can probably find methods moe promising than those the President suggested the other night.Some of that rule-reading obligation is going to have to be delegated downward, and some of the responsibility for having issued the rules is going to have to be accepted - higher up.