Carter administration attempts to bring professional management techniques to the government's regulatory apparatus have met with only mixed results, according to a report released today by the Office of Management and Budget.
In its first report card to the president on the achievements of his Executive Order 12044, which 18 months ago ordered federal regulatory agencies to coordinate efforts and become more efficient, the OMB claimed "we have begun to see improvements in federal regulatory practices that had gone largely unchanged for more than 30 years."
That order, which has only been operational in most agencies since the beginning of this year, set five goals: effective policy oversight of the regulatory process to eliminate duplication and conflicts between regulations; meaningful public participation in regulatory decisions; mandated analysis of all alternatives to a regulation before it is implemented; systematic review of all existing regulations, and the rewriting of many regulations in "plain English."
The 40 federal agencies that fall under the Executive Branch have all at least instituted procedures to deal with the five goals in Carter's order, but response from the 18 independent agencies, set up by Congress and not under direct presidential authority, has been "uneven," the report noted.
OMB praised the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, whose compliance was deemed "on balance . . . good;" the Labor Department ("good progress"); the Department of Transportation ("a leader in carrying out the executive order"), and the Environmental Protection Agency ("solid and growing commitment to implement the five goals.).
By the same token, OMB was notably critical of the Energy Department ("efforts . . . can be improved"); the Department of Housing and Urban Development (slow, but . . . "recent initiatives appear promising"); the Interior Department, and the Justice Department.
In specific areas, several examples were given of compliance, and noncompliance, with administration management improvement efforts.
In the area of improving policy oversight, for example, the report praised the EPA for suspending work on a new regulation on coke oven emissions until the Occupational Safety and Health Administration made its plans for developing a similar rule.
"EPA regulations may not be required once OSHA acts," the report noted. "Or, at least, by deferring EPA regulations, the standards issued by both agencies can be made compatible."
As to increasing public participation in the regulatory process, OMB reports significant progress in combating "public apathy and frustration (which) were fostered by the lack of adequate opportunities to participate in regulatory decisions.
"In addition to lengthening comment periods, holding hearings outside Washington, etc., one of the most significant innovations was the establishment of semiannual regulatory agendas," OMB reported. "These (published) agendas provide the first comprehensive look at agency regulatory activities for agency policy officials and the public."
"The greatest shortcoming in agency performance against the goals of the order is the inadequacy of the analyses underlying regulatory decisions," OMB reported.
The report said most agencies are having difficulty doing the needed analysis of alternatives for several reasons. First, many agencies do not have "analytic talent," the report said. Some hire outside contractors to do analysis.
"Since contractors often believe they are 'paid by the pound,'" OMB said, "studies may be lengthy, detailed and complex. These documents may be of little or no help to policymakers because, although they provide important technical details, they are not decision-oriented."
"In hindsight," OMB admitted, "we are responsible for some of the confusion over when a regulatory analysis should be done. Our explanations should have made clear that preparing regulatory analyses should be considered more the rule than the exception." Instead, the report noted, many agencies have avoided doing the analyses by invoking a rule that says such studies are not mandatory for regulations with under $100 million impact.
OMB did see progress in the area of forced reviews of existing regulations. Called the "sunset review," such study evaluates whether or not regulations are still needed.
"In HEW, over 2,500 pages of rules have been reviewed and either rewritten, consolidated, or eliminated," OMB reported "This represents about one-third of HEW's regulations."
The report also cited the Labor Department for eliminating 80 of 229 mine-safety standards that were reviewed.