A Path Forward on Regulatory Reform?
Last week, each federal department and agency released its plan to revise or amend outdated federal regulations at the direction of President Obama. Heavily criticized for its aggressive posture in expanding new regulations at high cost, the Administration has garnered scant attention for its efforts to revise or eliminate old regulations to cut cost.
In January 2011, President Obama issued Executive Order 13563, which required each covered federal regulatory agency to review its stock of existing regulations and identify those that are outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and seek to modify or repeal them. Since then, federal agencies have developed plans to do just this, and these plans have been updated periodically.
A review of the latest agency plans for EPA, OSHA, and FDA shows that about half of the 75+ regulations to be reformed are based on advances in science and technology. Looking carefully at these reform proposals, one can identify five ways in which science and technology make regulatory programs more effective and/or more efficient:
Embracing new science. FDA is modernizing its nutrition labeling information and its definition of a single serving to provide consumers with more useful information. OSHA is seeking to update its 40-year old permissible exposure limits (PELS) for chemicals in the workplace.
Embracing new technology. EPA is seeking to allow use of a relatively new technology for detecting leaks of certain air pollutants. FDA is allowing use of a new technology for medical screening of underground coal miners for black lung disease. FDA is proposing to allow use of a new technology for mammography.
Eliminating reliance on outdated technology. EPA eliminated an outdated requirement that required vapor recovery devices on gasoline pumps.
Replacing paper records with electronic records. EPA is moving from a paper-based to an electronic-based system for tracking hazardous waste shipments. FDA is allowing mandatory safety reports for human drugs to be submitted electronically. FDA is also allowing electronic package inserts, in lieu of paper, for pharmaceuticals.
Employing IT to replace less efficient processes. EPA is replacing a requirement for in-person training with on-line training for workers involved in lead paint removal.
Now, there are those who argue that the President’s initiative on retrospective review is too timid, and their criticism is understandable—there is a great deal of inefficient and ineffective federal regulation. But at least some of the Administration’s reforms have merit, and these tend to rely heavily on advances in science and technology—something liberals and conservatives alike can support.