Chief Executive orders review of outdated regulations

Tuesday - 1/18/2011, 12:18pm EST

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

President Obama today signed an Executive Order instructing agencies to get rid of outdated regulations and those that conflict with each other.

By May, agencies will have to submit a preliminary plan to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to detail how they will periodically review existing significant regulations to determine whether any such regulations should be modified, streamlined, expanded or repealed so as to make the agency's regulatory program more effective or less burdensome in achieving the regulatory objectives.

This is part of a broad review of federal regulations that place an unreasonable burden on businesses.

"It's a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades," Obama wrote in the order. "We are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb."

Under the order agencies must:

  • Propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs (recognizing that some benefits and costs are difficult to quantify);

  • Tailor its regulations to impose the least burden on society, consistent with obtaining regulatory objectives, taking into account, among other things, and to the extent practicable, the costs of cumulative regulations;

  • Select, in choosing among alternative regulatory approaches, those approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety, and other advantages; distributive impacts; and equity);

  • To the extent feasible, specify performance objectives, rather than specifying the behavior or manner of compliance that regulated entities must adopt; and

  • Identify and assess available alternatives to direct regulation, including providing economic incentives to encourage the desired behavior, such as user fees or marketable permits, or providing information upon which choices can be made by the public.

Cass Sunstein, the administrator of OIRA, and Congress have played a more active role over the last two years in trying to simplify regulations. Sunstein set up a dashboard tracking regulatory actions under review for each agency. The Environmental Protection Agency has the most with 28 and the Department of Health and Human Services is second with 18.

Additionally, Sunstein, who likely will lead this effort mandated under the Executive Order, has emphasized the need for better analysis before issuing a regulatory action. In November, OIRA issued a checklist for agencies before they issue new regulations.

Congress passed the Plain Writing Act earlier this year and Sunstein issued implementation guidelines in late November.

Sunstein is also pushing the administration's open government initiative through regulatory reviews. In a May memo, he called for further standardization of rulemaking through the regulations.gov site.

The order further codifies all of these actions in one way or another. The order calls for agencies to ensure the general public has at least 60 days to comment on the regulations through the regulations.gov site, including relevant scientific and technical findings, in an open format that can be easily searched and downloaded.

As part of the Executive Order, President Obama also doesn't want agencies to shy away from addressing gaps in regulations, such as new safety rules for infant formula and procedures that stop preventable infections from spreading in hospitals.

Additionally, agencies should do a better job of coordinating regulations as could be overlapping or redundant. The President writes that by working together agencies can reduce costs and simplify and harmonize rules.

"In developing regulatory actions and identifying appropriate approaches, each agency shall attempt to promote such coordination, simplification, and harmonization," the order states. "Each agency shall also seek to identify, as appropriate, means to achieve regulatory goals that are designed to promote innovation."

Other regulations, such as the Clean Air Act or child labor laws, are necessary to prevent abuse, he wrote, and "strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy."

Obama laid the groundwork for the mandate in an opinion column Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal. The President also said he wants his administration to strike a balance between protecting the public and promoting economic growth.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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