White House releases plan to cut regs, save $10B

Tuesday - 8/23/2011, 3:43pm EDT

By Ruben Gomez
Federal News Radio

The White House on Tuesday announced final plans to streamline federal regulations in an effort the administration said will save $10 billion for businesses over the next five years.

The plans are the result of an executive order President Barack Obama signed in January for agencies to revise or eliminate rules that cause unnecessary burden on the private sector.

Cass Sunstein, regulations chief at the Office of Management and Budget, said the Department of Health and Human Services will likely generate $4 billion in savings by reducing reporting requirements for health care providers.

The Department of Labor has found $2.5 billion in probable savings, OMB said. DOL's plan aims to simplify and improve hazard warnings for workers.

Other significant savings would come from the Department of Transportation, which is proposing to "eliminate unnecessary regulation of the railroad industry," OMB said. And the Environmental Protection Agency plans to simplify requirements for hazardous waste generators, by moving to electronic reporting.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, which represents federal contractors, expressed skepticism.

"We welcome the administration's review," Chvotkin said. But "it's hard to see how those kinds of substantial savings can be achieved from the ongoing regulatory reforms. In our view, a lot more needs to be done to tackle the huge volume of regulations that govern the acquisition process."

The U.S Chamber of Commerce said the plan, while well-intentioned, falls short. The chamber called on the administration to require agencies to differentiate between major and minor rules.

Agencies should "apply all the laws Congress passed relating to regulatory reform, including data quality, regulatory flexibility and unfunded mandates," said Bill Kovacs, Chamber Vice President for environment, technology and regulatory affairs.

Private sector representatives called the $10 billion savings number a drop in the bucket, a criticism that Sunstein responded to in a conference call with reporters.

"If it's a $10 billion drop in the bucket, I'd like to have access to that bucket," he said.

House Republican leaders called the reform plan a step in the right direction, but they are also working on legislation to change the federal rulemaking process.

"We will make sure that Washington policies are less restrictive to businesses small and large by requiring a congressional review and approval of any proposed federal government regulation that will have a significant impact on the economy," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said.