- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

Big government didn't grind to a halt during George W. Bush's first year in office, but a new study says it slowed down a bit.
"The president is off to a good start, but the question is whether he can sustain it," said Clyde Wayne Crews of the Washington-based Cato Institute. "He's been more careful about regulatory waste than the last administration."
In an analysis of the federal regulatory state released earlier this week, Mr. Crews reported that government agencies issued 4,132 rules in 2001, down from 4,313 in the previous year.
As usual, these included everything from energy-efficiency stipulations for household appliances to government food labels.
However, Mr. Crews said compliance with the regulations continues to cost the U.S. economy $854 billion a year, or roughly 8.4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. According to his report, that will still be more than enough to cancel future budget surpluses.
"The biggest anticipated surplus is $614 billion in 2012," said Mr. Crews. "But the regulatory costs already exceed $800 billion."
Mr. Crews also said federal regulations, which are rules Congress tells lower-level governments and the private sector to enforce, can sometimes provide an easy way for lawmakers to escape accountability.
"There's no incentive for Congress to care about the cost of enforcing new regulations," he said. "Regulatory costs are unbudgeted, with no formal presentation to the public like ordinary federal spending."
The Bush administration, like others before it, can exercise considerable discretion in determining the implementation of new rules. In fact, President Reagan's Executive Order 12291 in 1985 turned the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) into the administration's chief "traffic cop" for overseeing the adoption of new regulations for many years. But President Clinton later rescinded that power with an executive order of his own (12866) in 1993.
"OIRA, which is a unit of the Office of Budget and Management (OMB), was considerably weakened under the Clinton administration," said Mr. Crews. "Clinton effectively returned a lot of power to the agencies, taking away OIRA's authority to hold them accountable to central review."
Under OIRA chief John Graham and his boss, OMB director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the Bush administration is moving to change that. Both have called for OIRA to reassert its old role.
"Regulatory review is consumer protection in its purest form," Mr. Daniels said. "The costs are inflicted not on abstractions, but on each of us, with ultimately every dollar falling on purchasers of goods or services."
According to scholars who have been estimating regulatory costs for years, OIRA's return to central authority will be a step in the right direction.
"The current administration has been taking the problem more seriously than the Clinton administration did," said Tom Hopkins, a Rochester Institute of Technology professor and former OIRA official under Mr. Reagan.
But regardless of how scrupulously the administration reviews new regulations, Mr. Crews would still like to see an effort made to officially acknowledge the drain regulatory waste has on the economy.
"It's not just 'tax and budget' in Washington," he said. "Regulations are like hidden taxes, and the government should keep a tally of them."


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