White House expands regulatory overhaul effort

Friday - 7/15/2011, 9:31am EDT

Cass Sunstein, administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The effort to prune overly burdensome and obsolete regulations from the federal rulebook has expanded recently.

In January, President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing cabinet-level agencies to look for regulations that were obsolete, overly burdensome or too expensive.

Now, independent regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, are getting in on the regulatory review.

The administration's point man for regulatory overhaul, Cass Sunstein, is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He told Federal News Radio that by the end of August, "regulatory look-back 1.0" for executive agencies - the initial target of the overhaul - should be complete. And just a few months after that, independent regulatory agencies should begin submitting their review plans for public comment, an integral part of the process.

"We've been engaging very carefully with those who are facing regulatory burdens, and we've asked them for ideas about what rules on the books are causing problems and might be anachronistic, inconsistent with current needs or just imposing costs that are too high for the benefits," Sunstein said. "We very much expect that the independent agencies will do the very same. That's what the president has requested," he added.

But what does Sunstein say to those who point to sweeping new legislation, such as the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which is chock full of a suite of new regulations?

"What we've found with the executive agencies is that they can walk and chew gum at the same time," he said. "That is, they can issue rules that the law requires while also eliminating rules that the law doesn't require and are imposing unjustified burdens on people."

For example, he pointed to the EPA recently exempting milk producers from rules regulating, oddly enough, oil spills.

Sunstein acknowledged that most administrations attempt to tackle regulatory reform. But he said the public-engagement aspect would make this go-round more successful.

"One thing you'll see if you look at the plans is that they try to change the culture of regulation in Washington. They try to hardwire regulatory scrutiny ... into the agency process," he said.

Sunstein said agencies have responded positively to the reform process, including not only department heads but also career employees, who often have the greatest institutional knowledge of regulations.

"What we've seen from the executive agencies is that the career people have tremendous knowledge just by virtue of their experience," he said.