The only way to eliminate the Interstate Commerce Commission is to complete the deregulation of the trucking industry, then decide what agency or agencies should continue federal oversight of the railroads.
That is the opinion of Reese H. Taylor Jr., departing ICC chairman. "My preference would be a small Federal Railroad Commission," he said. "I think you could do it with about 200 people, then review whether you still need it every two years or so."
Taylor offered those comments while cleaning out his office after 4 1/2 sometimes contentious years as chairman of the nation's oldest regulatory agency -- albeit one that is visibly losing power.
The Reagan administration, after two years of waffling, has sent legislation to Capitol Hill that would totally deregulate the trucking industry, Taylor's first requirement for the death of his agency.
Further, the Office of Management and Budget's budget proposal for fiscal 1987 eliminates what would be left of the ICC, which is primarily oversight of railroad mergers, freight rates and track abandonments. The OMB proposal would shift those responsibilities to the Justice and Transportation departments, a concept that would require congressional approval and is so controversial there is little chance that it will happen.
Taylor's term on the commission expires Wednesday, and with it goes his seat, because the ICC is being reduced from seven members to five as part of its continuing decline. He was chairman from June 1981 until Dec. 13, when member Heather Gradison was designated chairman by President Reagan.
Taylor, a former law partner of Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), came to Washington from Carson City with the reputation as a Teamsters candidate and a strong supporter of continued regulation. He insists that such was not the case but concedes he was never able to shed the label, which was applied most vigorously by an article in Common Cause magazine.
"I should have held a press conference when that article ran and dealt with [the charge] then," he said. He didn't, however, and he places that in the category with several other mistakes he says are natural for those not accustomed to Washington. "It's like putting your finger in the candle," he said. "You don't ever forget, so long as you don't rumn out of fingers."
Taylor's most visible battles came in the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, where he tangled with the chairman, Sen. Mark Andrews (R-N.D.), at a number of hearings memorable for the lack of civility.
Andrews, who represents a rural agricultural state where freight rates for grain and air fares to Minneapolis can become significant political issues, has asked many questions about the value of transportation deregulation.
One of his most pertinent questions was why the commissioners had not met together for 20 months at a time when the ICC was churning out one major decision after another that further deregulated freight rates for railroads.
Those decisions, regarded by many as overly permissive, were reached through so-called notation voting, where each commissioner cast a vote on a staff document as it was circulated. That practice is essential to ICC operations, where literally hundreds of routine matters require little if any debate. On major regulatory issues, however, there was a feeling that the commissioners should have met in public as the Government in the Sunshine Act requires.
The result of Andrews' prodding was the first public ICC meeting in months, at which the commission established the guidelines covering the issues it would discuss in public.
Meanwhile, courts were remanding some of the deregulatory proposals the commission had passed by notation voting, notably one deregulating freight rates for export coal and the other totally deregulating boxcar rates.
"Maybe some of the things that got us into trouble -- boxcar deregulation and export coal -- wouldn't have happened if we had been able to talk them out," Taylor said.
The other battle with Andrews was over the ICC appropriation for fiscal 1986, a battle that cost Taylor's employes dearly. The short version of the story is that Andrews -- angry with Taylor -- would not move a needed supplemental appropriation bill.
Taylor thus put the agency's 900-plus employes on furlough one day a week for 16 weeks, in effect a 20 percent pay cut for that period. Finally the appropriation was passed. At the one hearing where a compromise might have been struck, Taylor and Andrews started shouting at each other and the hearing broke down almost as soon as it had started.
The furloughs, Taylor said, "just plain weren't fair" to ICC employes and he called that episode a "grevious hurt."
However, he said, "We did the only thing we could do. The only alternative was to rif fire about one-third of the place." He was clearly pleased with a General Accounting Office report that said the use of furloughs "appears preferable to other alternatives available to the ICC . . . . "
Taylor had high praise for the ICC staff, which has been cut since 1981 from 1,858 employes to 858 now. "I don't know another agency that has taken that kind of personnel whack and still managed to perform," Taylor said. "The credit is to the staff. They have been able to cope and manage."
During his tenure as chairman, Taylor said, "In terms of substantive achievements we proved that competition does a better job than regulation." He cited the drop in rail rates for coal shipments from Wyoming's Power River Basin after two railroads instead of one were given operating rights there.
Taylor predicted that the success or failure of an effort spearheaded by coal shippers and electric utilities to "fine tune" railroad deregulation "will depend on how this or a successor agency addresses the problem of captive shippers," shippers whose products best move by rail.
Taylor, 57, is planning to stay in Washington, although he said he has not discussed future employment with anyone. "Maybe my heart's a little more with the shippers," he said.