Regulatory Tide Ebbs and Flows Business Groups and Conservatives Try to Stem Stronger Enforcement of Federal Regulations since End of the Reagan Era, Seeking Studies of Costs versus Benefits in Such Areas as Antitrust Activities, Food, Drugs, and Alcoholic Beverages

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A REGULATORY renaissance in the Bush administration may be slowing as the White House brings more scrutiny to bear on federal regulators.

"We are looking at ways to work more closely with the heads of various agencies to insure an overall coordination of policy," says one White House official.

The move comes after many months of complaints by business groups and conservatives who were an important part of President Bush's political coalition in 1988.

There is "a sense of regulators crawling out of the woodwork where they were hiding during the 1980s," says Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation - the conservative think tank in Washington that provided many of the intellectual underpinnings for federal policy during the Reagan administration.

Consumer advocates have been hailing "the bold moves" of such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) which have all garnered many headlines for a number of recent regulatory actions. Tough legal actions

Procter & Gamble dropped the word "fresh" from the label of its Citrus Hill orange juice after the FDA on April 24 got a court order seizing a shipment because the juice itself is actually made from concentrate.

By making an example of one of the most common brand names in the American kitchen, the FDA has gotten the rest of the food industry to say: all right, things we might have done... , we won't take those chances any more, notes Peter Barton Hutt, an attorney at Covington and Burling in Washington, who served as the FDA's chief counsel during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

The Adolph Coors Brewing Company is now phasing out its commercials proclaiming that Coors Light beer "won't slow you down," after the BATF took enforcement action.

"Obviously beer contains alcohol and it does slow you down," says Bruce Silverglade, an attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest - a New York- based organization that has long campaigned for limits on beer, wine, and liquor advertising.

The FTC has also been stepping up its enforcement activities. This year, in separate cases against Volvo and the Louis Galoob Toy Company, the FTC not only cited the manufacturers for making misleading advertising claims, but also their ad agencies. An FTC attorney said these were the first cases in six years in which an ad agency was held responsible for the commercial speech of its clients. Record high spending

Overall, consumer advocates agree that the level of enforcement muscle in many federal agencies has, until recently, vastly increased during the Bush years.

The president's budget proposal for 1992 calls for an increase in regulatory spending to more than $13 billion which, even when adjusted for inflation, is a record high, according to a report from the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis.

And with 122,400 government workers expected to be part of the regulatory bureaucracy next year, "staffing figures are now higher than they were at the end of the Carter administration," the study notes. In addition, a new law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires businesses to spend money to accommodate people with special needs.

This record has left many business leaders concerned that, as Jeffrey Perlman, the manager of legal and regulatory affairs at the United States Chamber of Commerce, put it: "We were going into a stage of re-regulation."

But with the new initiative at the White House to scrutinize regulatory agencies more closely, many liberals, environmentalists, and consumer advocates are now the ones complaining.

" There is a cutting back," says Joan Claybrook, the president of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

"In the beginning," she says, "President Bush didn't pay a lot of attention" to what regulators were doing. …