Vice President Bush's Task Force on Regulatory Relief issued a farewell report on its "regulatory achievements" yesterday, taking credit for regulatory and legislative changes that it estimates will save business, state and local governments and consumers $150 billion over the next 10 years.
"These savings," Bush said in a statement, "will continue to make an important contribution to the economic recovery now under way, without jeopardizing the environment, job or consumer safety or other important regulatory goals."
In addition, Bush said, 30 months' experience with President Reagan's executive order on regulatory reform has institutionalized "a credible, effective and even-handed executive oversight mechanism centered in the Office of Management and Budget . . . . This oversight function had long been suggested by Republican and Democratic regulatory experts alike--but had never been completely developed."
At a news conference yesterday, task force counsel C. Boyden Gray released the report, the group's third, and announced that the task force would be disbanded.
"I think at this point the task force has accomplished its goals," he said. Work was nearly completed on the 119 existing rules that had been targeted for review, he said, adding "the end is in sight."
The process of regulatory review will continue, but will be centered in the OMB, which has done the basic review work since the executive order was issued in February, 1981.
Asked why many of the rules targeted were health and safety regulations of the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, Gray said, "I think the bulk of the savings did not come out of those two agencies . . . . Also, these reviews were initiated based on the response of the public."
Did "the public" refer to management or to labor, he was asked. "The management side had more complaints," Gray said, "but it's also fair to say that labor had ample opportunity to get in on the review process."
The calculation of estimated savings was provided by the agencies that originated the rules, said Robert Bedell, deputy administrator of the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The calculations included both the costs of implementing the rules and figures on their expected benefits, he said.
The report noted that some of the savings are merely speculative. For instance, it attributes $10 billion in cumulative savings to the rescission of DOT's passive restraint, or air bag, rule. That rescission was struck down this year by the Supreme Court.
Among the other 10-year savings claimed:
* In additional interest to bank depositors as a result of congressional passage of a bill phasing out interest-rate ceilings on most accounts, $36 billion.
* From changes in Labor Department rules covering the wages paid to workers on federal construction projects, $5.8 billion. The AFL-CIO's attempt to overturn the department's revisions was recently rejected by an appeals court.
* From changes in Army Corps of Engineer rules on wetlands protection, $10 billion. The estimate was based on a Memorandum of Understanding between the Corps and EPA, but the two agencies have been feuding over control of a key portion of the rules and it is unclear whether the memorandum resolves the dispute.
Gray acknowledged that the task force fell short on certain key goals, failing to win enactment of regulatory reform legislation and amendments to the Clean Air Act. Although regulatory reform measures have been introduced in both chambers this year, Gray said, "The time just isn't right," in part because the business community's enthusiasm for the bill has waned.
Hank Cox, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive who issued his own "Terrible Twenty" hit list of government regulations in 1981, yesterday offered tempered praise for the task force. "I believe they have done a very good job in the last couple of years in treating the symptoms if not the cause of the regulatory problem . . . . But they missed their chance. I believe they suffer from a lack of vision."
Alan Morrison of the Public Citizen Litigation Group offered criticism from another quarter. Of the task force claim that it had not reduced regulatory protections, he said, "Nonsense. If there's one thing that's clear it's that they have jeopardized all the interests they say they didn't jeopardize . . . . The administration is mucking around in health and safety matters it ought to stay out of."