THE NEW administration is right to look with a cold eye at the record-breaking volume of regulations published by the Carter administration in its final days. There is, as we have noted, something inherently suspicious about the appearance of a three-volume, 1,100-page Federal Register (more than three times the output of a "normal" day) on the eve of the inauguration of a new and unashamedly anti-reg president.
But the inheritors of this bewildering document -- and the others like is issued in recent weeks -- should not consign them to the regulatory wastebasket unexamined. In the first place, they and the general taxpayer should be relieved to know that only a small part of these volumes consists of actual regulations. Most of the space if filled with advance notices, preliminary issuances and the like. Actual government regulations usually average the less than three pages.
The new administration will also find that, after much hemming and hawing, its predecessors have finally taken care of some nasty problems it should be glad to be able to sidestep. These include such things as setting wages for foreign apple-pickers, which generate a ferocity of comment way out of proportion to their real economic impact.
In fact, most of the regulations just now published were long overdue -- some of them by as much as six years. Delays this long can impose substantial costs on states, localities and companies that must operate under uncertain and shifting interim guidelines. The recent productivity of the rule-makers suggests that Congress and the president should probably be a lot less tolerant of the leisurely regulatory process to which agencies have become accustomed.
Again in the silver lining department we might note that the last-minute rush produced a healthy pressure for sensible compromise. While there are surely some atrocities buried within these midnight issuances,there are also glimmerings of sweet reasonableness. For example: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reversed its previous proposal to require enrollment of older workers in lengthy apprenticeship programs designed for youth. The Employment Standards Administration decided that maybe it could still protect service workers from exploitation without fixing inflexible minimum-wage scales for high-paid computer programmers and operators. And OSHA brought forth regulations for controlling worker exposure to industrial noise, electrical hazards and harmful chemical substances that set important and useful precedents for regulating on the basis of overall company performance as distinct from complaince with nit-picking procedures. It would rely on information from workers rather than on heavy-handed hazard control.
We don't think that these and other government agencies have done themselves or the cuase of sound government regulation any favor in the past by starting intransigently from way-out positions in their rule-making and then dragging their feet to a final compromise. But there is much in the outcome of the rush to regulate that the Reagan administration may find worth preserving.