For years, members of Congress have complained that the regulations the agencies issue often bore little resemblance to the laws Congress passed. At least one committee--House Education and Labor--decided it could stand it no longer. In 1979, the committee moved to take advantage of authority provided by 1974 amendments to the General Education Provisions Act and began to review every proposed and final regulation the Department of Education issued.

Since 1979, the committee has reviewed 172 regulations, which covered 2,500 pages in the Federal Register and involved an estimated $14 billion in federal funding. The committee has sent 100 letters to the department outlining its concerns; most of its suggestions, it said, were incorporated into the final regulations. Committee staff members said "to the best of our knowledge, we are the only" congressional committee to go through such a review. Committee Chairman Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.) said the review process has been "time-consuming" but worth it.

The General Education Provisions Act also allows Congress to disapprove, by a vote of both houses, regulations that are inconsistent with the legislation they are supposed to implement. Congress has zapped four regulations--all in 1980--which were subsequently modified by the department. Congress can veto various agencies' decisions under more than 200 federal laws; the issue of the legislative veto, however, is now before the courts.