January 26, 2011

Meaningful Regulatory Reform Has to Come from Outside the Agencies

Jerry Ellig

Research Professor, George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center

President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address that he has ordered a review of federal regulations to weed out the ones that are unnecessary. The only problem is, this has been tried before with only small results. A federal executive order already requires agencies to have a program for periodic review of regulations.

A 2007 Government Accountability Office study found that nine federal agencies conducted more than 1,300 regulatory reviews between 2001 and 2006, of widely varying scope. The report notes, “Our limited review of agency summaries and reports on completed retrospective reviews revealed that agencies’ reviews more often attempted to assess the effectiveness oftheir implementation of the regulation rather than the effectiveness of theregulation in achieving its goal.” Left unsupervised, agencies will evaluate process rather than results.

Meaningful impetus for review of existing regulations has to come from outside of the regulatory agencies themselves. One option would be for Congress to establish an independent commission that would recommend regulations that should be removed – much like the commission that recommends which obsolete military bases should be closed. Even in the absence of new legislation, congressional committees could play a key role through vigorous oversight of regulatory agencies.