May 26, 2011

Streamlining Regulatory Process Is Fine, but Administration Should Look Forward, Not Back

Statement by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards

Note: This statement is response to so-called “look-back plans” released today by approximately 30 federal agencies in compliance with President Barack Obama’s Jan. 18 executive order requiring federal agencies to conduct reviews of rules already on the books. In this process, the preliminary plans will be followed by a public comment period and then revision and submission of final plans in about 80 days. These plans are supposed to identify rules in need of revision, expansion or elimination, as well as redundant or outdated paperwork requirements. 

Looking back is fine, but not at the expense of looking forward.

While we welcome the efficiencies and streamlining that the look-backs may achieve, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards urges the administration to focus on saving lives and stabilizing the economy. Regulations are part of a system that protects people from harm from dangerous or even fatal products, contaminated food, financial collapse, and polluted air and water. We urge the administration to look forward, especially in a time of scarce resources for regulatory agencies.

Recent events like the Upper Big Branch mine explosion and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster cost workers their lives. The twin failures of business and government to look out for hardworking Americans has cost the U.S. trillions of dollars and more than eight million jobs. 

By conducting these look-back reviews, the Obama administration clearly is focused on achieving substantial cost savings. But when Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), announced the submission of these plans today, he also reinforced the myth that government “paperwork” and regulations affect economic growth, thereby undercutting the legitimacy of regulatory protections.
 
Indeed, some preliminary plans released today focus on moving agencies from paper-based systems to electronic reporting and information, and these are welcome changes that should save businesses and government money in coming years. But as the recent reports about the causes of the West Virginia mine disaster indicate, what Sunstein calls “burdens” on companies actually save lives every day. We urge the administration to keep in mind that dismissing all reporting requirements as just so much paperwork to be eliminated can prove disastrous to many workers and their families.
 
In the coming weeks, the coalition will review these preliminary plans, watch carefully the process for allowing public comment and evaluate the final plans agencies submit. The process has the potential to achieve real improvements in regulatory effectiveness and allow the public to participate in government. We need to make sure that special interests do not abuse this process for their own ends and that this effort does not allow Congress to wage war on the agencies that protect our health, our homes and our families.
 
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The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards is a coalition of consumer, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups, as well as concerned individuals, joined in the belief that our country’s system of regulatory safeguards provides a stable framework that secures our quality of life and paves the way for a sound economy that benefits us all. For more information, please visit www.sensiblesafeguards.org.