Once upon a time, back when Jimmy Carter was president and another generation of bureaucrats wanted to eliminate regulatory overlap, the heads of five agencies involved in public health got together to figure out how to determine if a substance can cause cancer and then how to regulate it. Thus was born the Interagency Regulatory Liaison Group, an organization with no formal authority or budget, made up of the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Agriculture Department's Marketing and Inspection Service, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Among the things the regulators agreed on was that a substance shown to cause cancer in animals should be treated as if it caused cancer in humans (a position often disputed by scientists working for a variety of industries.) So industry had a dilemma--it wanted to ensure that regulators' approach to carcinogenic issues was consistent, but it didn't really like the liaison group approach.

Last week, the group died. A majority of the agency heads decided they would prefer to see it reconstituted as the Interagency Science/Health Coordination Group under the chairmanship of George Keyworth, the president's science adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Dr. Keyworth, a CPSC memo notes, "reports directly to the president," so there will be more White House input in anything this new non-decision-making group does.