A recent House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on agency progress with executive-mandated regulatory reforms revealed strong political divisions in the ultimate goal and efficacy of such reform efforts. And some suggested that’s not a bad thing.

Executive Orders 13771 and 13777, published by the Trump administration in January and February 2017, required agencies to eliminate two old regulations for every one new regulation and to establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force to review agency regulations and make recommendations for cuts and modifications to the agency secretary.

Republicans on the committee applauded already discovered reductions in the nation’s net regulatory cost, such as $10 million in potential savings at the Department of Defense. Democratic members of the committee expressed concerns that agency guidance was being removed without considering the impact on all Americans and that the regulatory task forces established by presidential executive order lack sufficient transparency.

“All of this is being done under the guise of cost savings, but I fear that it is being done without considering the impact on all Americans,” said Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., adding that she was concerned over the loss of regulations on clean air and water, exposure to toxic chemicals and gun purchasing.

Kelly and other Democrats took issue with the lack of transparency on task force makeup as well, worrying that the members could include special interest lobbyists rather than representatives of the greater public interest.

Representatives from the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation and General Services Administration task forces told the committee that their review boards are predominantly staffed by career employees without political motivations, and that the reviews have received agencywide support.

“I think what has resonated very nicely with the DoD workforce is explaining why these regulatory reform efforts should be undertaken,” said Joo Chung, director of the Oversight and Compliance Directorate at DoD. “I think it’s very satisfying at the department to unify certain policies and requirements under one regulation.”

“If anything, they see this as an opportunity not to only review the regulations that we have, but more importantly looking at all their day to day activities,” said Giancarlo Brizzi, principal deputy associate administrator in the Office of Governmentwide Policy at GSA.

Democrats such as Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., also raised concerns over limited avenues for public input in the task force reviews, which could lead the groups to make recommendations to their agency secretaries that neglected public opinion. However, should the secretary choose to take action to remove those regulations, a public comment period would have to take place.

Clyde Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and witness at the hearing, explained that partisan disagreements on regulatory oversight are not necessarily a bad thing, as it means that “elected legislators must resolve controversial issues involving regulations with massive impact.”

“Proposals to monitor regulatory costs have deep bipartisan pedigree,” said Crews. “A modern, bipartisan route of Trump’s ‘one in, two out’ is Sen. Mark Warner’s 2010 PAYGO.”

Warner’s pay-as-you-go proposal would have required that agencies eliminate one regulation of equal financial impact every time they want to introduce a new regulation.

“There are obviously some risks there if you look at just the number of regulations,” said Jitinder Kohli, managing director at Deloitte Consulting and former official in the British government, who invented the ‘one in, two out’ method.”

According to Kohli, regulatory reform initiatives should not only focus on reducing the number of regulations, but also on making the regulations easier for businesses to follow. He explained that, for example, though regulations on food safety in restaurants are good to keep around, burdens can be reduced by providing those restaurants with lists of how exactly to comply with those regulations. These lists would look much like a “quick start guide” provided by electronics manufacturers in addition to the full manual or, in the government’s case, regulation.

“These are very easy things to do that do not impact your protections but have real impact,” said Kohli. “But they’re a long, long way from the sort of political dialogue.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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