After months of internal debate and attempts to reassure concerned regulators, President Carter has produced his compromise proposal to streamline the "burdensome and unwieldy" regulatory system and put an end to "nitpicking rules."
The proposal would bring modern management techniques to the government and attempts to make all regulations "cost effective," a term White House aides equate with efficiency but one that many regulators fear may signal a retreat from tough enforcement of health and safety rules in industry.
The dramatic revamping of the regulatory process announced by Carter in a Dallas speech yesterday includes both legislative and executive actions. It would, administration officials say, result in realization of many Carter campaign promises to make government more efficient, while still permitting continued commitment to health and safety regulation and other social programs.
The proposal is focused on three objectives: streamlining regulatory procedures, cutting back paperwork, and ensuring congressional "sunset" reviews.
Noting his recent proposal to reduce economic regulation of surface transportation, Carter announced plans to submit further legislation shortly calling for significant changes in the regulation of drugs, nuclear plant siting, meat and poultry inspection, and communications.
At the heart of the package is the Regulation Reform Act of 1979, the first legislative proposal to significantly overhaul regulatory practices and systems in 30 years. It would sharply revamp many aspects of the existing Administrative Procedures Act.
Carter said that "we now have 90 regulatory agencies issuing some 7,000 rules each year. When Congress established these programs it usually focused on isolated objectives. There was little effort to coordinate overlapping agency mandates or to assess cumulative impact. Little attention was given to analyzing the benefits and cost of proposed rules or to using regulatory approaches which could reduce the cost of achieving the goals."
Saying "we can no longer afford this neglect,"Carter proposed his three-pronged attack.
First, the Regulatory Reform Act is designed to soften the existing system of formal rule-making procedures at most federal agencies, a system the White House sees as "too rigid and too costly."
The bill would extend many of the rules now governing executive-branch agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, to independent ones like the Federal Trade Commission and Interstate Commerce Commission.
It would, for example, require that all agencies list alternative means of accomplishing major objectives, including comparative cost-and-benefit projections. If an agency didn't choose the least costly alternative, it would have to explain.
Each agency would have to establish a regular schedule for review of its regulations before a newly created Regulatory Council, to ensure that they had not become outmoded or ineffective.
Strict deadlines would be set on regulatory proceedings in an effort to cut delay, and agencies would have to explain in writing why deadlines were not met. Some $20 million would be earmarked to fund participation in those proceedings by groups that could not normally afford to appear but whose views were considered valuable. That funding would be overseen by a greatly expanded Administration Conference, which would also have new powers to select and monitor administrative law judges, who run regulatory proceedings and make key decisions.
The second prong of Carter's plan is reduction of paperwork, an effort begun two years ago which he said has already slashed the burden by 15 percent. Proposed legislation would assign federal paperwork review solely to the Office of Management and Budget. Currently several other agencies, including the General Accounting Office, are working on paperwork reduction.
Further legislative proposals would mandate reductions in paperwork for small business and organizations.
Finally, the president calls for "sunset" legislation -- congressional review of every federal program every two years. This law would also terminate spending authority every decade for many federal programs unless Congress acts to review or revive them.
The overall Carter plan includes many proposals previously made in different forms, several of which have met considerable opposition from regulators and Capitol Hill.
Environmentalists, for example, fear that it is virtually impossible to subject environmental, health and safety regulations to meaningful costbenefit analysis. "How," an environmentalist asks, "can you place an economic value on clean air, longer life or a future healthy child.?"
There are concerns also that regulatory revision is a smokescreen for appeasing powerful business lobbies. Critics point to recent White House efforts to curtail Environmental Protection Agency antipollution efforts.
Some key portions of the administration proposal might be negotiable. White House officials have already indicated, for example, that their efforts to deregulate the trucking industry could be tempered by a willingness of the Teamsters union to accept voluntary wage guidelines in contract negotiations.