THE POST'S reporter, T. R. Reid, returned to Appleton, Wis., recently to see what has changed since he took stock of that city's complaints about over-regulation almost a year ago. Mr. Reid's findings are worth thinking about in relation to the administration's regulatory rollback.
Some improvements have been noted. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, already rated as "the most improved agency" a year ago, has now reduced its safety inspections of the local paper mill to little more than a smile and a wave. That pleases the plant manager, at least, and other local people also note a new attitude of cooperation that makes their dealings with the federal government more efficient as well as pleasant.
On the other hand, no one sees any big dollar savings from the changes, and some things--such as administering government-aided student loans at the local university--are more complicated than ever. This inconsistency in federal policy shows up in other areas as well.
Business interests with ready access to the Office of Management and Budget, where regulatory policy is now centered, have usually received prompt, continuing relief from the nagging ache of federal regulation. A few industries, of course, such as the big trucking firms, don't want to be deregulated, and they have gotten their wish to be left alone. In the case of less favored constituencies, however, the prescription has been still more red tape. Welfare agencies, for example, are burdened with a host of new requirements to do such things as tally recipient's possessions and reduce errors to a level not achieved by even the most careful fiduciaries of public or private trust.
The administration's regulatory review is far from complete, and there is time to correct the imbalances and open the process up to wider inspection. Savings from improved efficiency should increase over time, and no one should undervalue the importance of administering federal rules with more common sense and understanding. But untangling red tape isn't as easy as it looks from the outside. The Appleton findings are clear about that.