A number of sensitive regulatory proposals, after drawing irate reactions and disappearing into the thicket of the bureaucracy during the final months of the election campaign, are expected to reemerge in the next few weeks, some amended to appease critics, others in substantially the same form.
Proposals that agencies have been taking another look at would, among other things, relax child labor restrictions, rewrite antidiscrimination rules covering federal contractors, and lessen the importance of seniority as a job protection for federal employes.
Other items that slowed to a bureaucratic crawl were the development of Justice Department regulations setting out the government's position on guaranteeing civil rights for the handicapped and a complex Health and Human Services Department rule designed to cut the $1.8 billion the government pays each year to provide dialysis services to persons with severe kidney disease.
The civil rights rules governing the rights of disabled persons to employment, education and equal opportunity have been the subject of protracted negotiations involving the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the Office of Management and Budget and C. Boyden Gray, counsel to Vice President Bush. In addition, a number of meetings have been held with representatives of various groups promoting handicapped rights, according to Gray.
The pace of the negotiations slowed earlier this fall, according to sources involved, after David Kehl, legislative director for House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), called Gray and asked for a "go-slow" approach to the rules.
"He said, 'We don't want another 94-142,' " said Gray, referring to the well-publicized, emotional congressional hearings on the Education Department's proposed rules governing education for the handicapped -- rules now known by the numbered section of their authorizing law. The most highly criticized portions of those rules were withdrawn in a notice published in yesterday's Federal Register.
Another proposal that drew congressional criticism and an outcry from organized labor this summer would have permitted 14- and 15-year-olds to work longer hours and accept jobs previously considered too hazardous. After that response, the comment period for those rules was extended until mid-January.
Bob Cuccia, a spokesman for the Labor Department, said the agency still believes its proposal is "a good idea" and plans to go ahead with the changes after receiving comments.
The department also extended until Nov. 15 the comment period on its plans to review safety standards for underground coal mines, plans that it says would drop unnecessary reporting and record-keeping requirements, delete irrelevant standards and update standards to conform to technological developments.
Another politically ticklish proposal before the Labor Department would ease the affirmative-action requirements on firms that do business with the federal government.
The existing rules, promulgated under President Carter, were targeted for review in the early days of the Reagan administration. But the proposed changes irritated so many groups on all sides that they were sent back for extensive revision. Now no one in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will answer questions about the proposal, even to review what it said when published in August, 1981.
One proposal that made trouble for the administration before it was ever presented publicly was the Office of Personnel Management's plan to change its procedures for reductions in force. Current rules afford greater job security to more senior federal employes and veterans; the change would have given more weight to "job performance"--a move employe unions contend would politicize the RIF process.
"It's not on the front burner," OPM spokesman Patrick S. Korten said, "but it's no secret that the concept is under consideration."
Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Richard S. Schweiker is about to get revised proposals for figuring how much the government should reimburse institutions that offer kidney dialysis services to about 60,000 patients nationwide. The original proposals were roundly denounced by hospitals and patients' advocates, who said the lower reimbursement rates would reduce the quality of care. The department had proposed changing the formula in an effort to increase the use of home dialysis, which it believes is less expensive.