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MURDOCK: Regulators regulate - that’s our problem

Economic recovery is possible only if we get bureaucrats out of our business

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Federal regulators are keeping America from moving forward. According to recent news stories reviewed by my colleagues at Engage America, federal red tape has squelched at least 736,203 potential jobs. If those positions were filled, today's unemployment rate would fall from 8.2 percent to 7.6 percent.

While some of what regulators do is vital (such as preventing Americans from being poisoned by tap water or detonated by faulty automobile gas tanks) far more is costly, duplicative or downright destructive.

At worst, regulators who could call or visit people to help them obey the law instead order dynamic-entry raids - complete with gun-waving officers in flak jackets and steel helmets. Just ask Gibson Guitar, victim of a federal SWAT team raid.

Nonetheless, federal regulators deserve about an inch of slack.

When staffers of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration go to work, they regulate. If, instead, they cruised Facebook, bought novels on Amazon or viewed Internet pornography (as Securities and Exchange Commission employees were caught doing) they would neglect their taxpayer-funded duties.

So, these functionaries occupy their desks and concoct fresh ways to enforce the 169,301-page U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Thus, Salt Lake City's Davis High School got socked with a $15,000 fine. While campus administrators followed federal rules and disabled a cafeteria soft-drink vending machine during lunch, they forgot to unplug another soda machine in the bookstore.

Brigades of federal busybodies perpetrate such nonsense - all of which springs, at least loosely, from laws enacted by members of Congress and pushed by presidents of both parties, spanning decades. Non-Pentagon executive-branch civilian employment shrank 11.5 percent under Democratic President Clinton, from 1.274 million to 1.127 million. It then boomed 14.4 percent under Republican President George W. Bush. Between 2008 and 2010, Democratic President Obama has expanded this head count 5.5 percent - from 1.289 million to 1.360 million.

While many of these federal employees do not regulate, per se, some 281,000 of them do, up 13 percent under Mr. Obama, estimates John Merline of Investor's Business Daily. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Clyde Wayne Crews, these officials imposed 3,807 brand-new rules in 2011, or 15 every federal business day. These new regulations filled 81,247 mind-numbing pages in last year's Federal Register.

Citing a Small Business Administration study, Mr. Crews explains in the 2012 edition of "Ten Thousand Commandments" that complying with these often baffling, frequently self-contradictory edicts cost the U.S. economy $1.75 trillion in 2008. That amount likely is higher today, given this president's new regulatory death stars: Dodd-Frank and Obamacare. This sum outpaced all U.S. corporate pretax profits of $1.3 trillion in 2009.

That's the point: Every dollar spent to mollify federal authorities is a dollar that cannot be spent to hire new employees, launch new products or open foreign markets.

Should Uncle Sam snooze while corporations do whatever they want? No.

A new Department of Agriculture rule called Control of Listeria Monocytogenes in Ready-to-Eat Meat and Poultry Products might make sense because that food-borne ailment kills 500 Americans annually. (Still, private inspections - a la Underwriters Laboratories - and food irradiation might be superior solutions.)

It is far tougher, however, to justify new Energy Department rules titled Conservation Standards for Wine Chillers and Miscellaneous Refrigeration Products and Efficiency Standards for Microwave Ovens (Standby and Off Mode). Doctors might smile if the Health and Human Services Department canceled a new regulation called Administrative Simplification: Adoption of Authoring Organizations for Operating Rules and Adoption of Operating Rules for Eligibility and Claims Status.

While the U.S. private sector has shriveled, Washington is a boomtown. America can survive without the Farm Credit Administration, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and an atticful of other outdated or extraneous bureaucracies. Padlock them.

At least 25 percent of regulators should be thanked for their service and dismissed. Those who remain should be instructed to combat fraud, disease, serious injuries and untimely deaths. Beyond that, Uncle Sam should butt out of America's vending machines and wine chillers.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

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