Quayle's Council Worries Congress the Council on Competitiveness Is Coming under Fire for Accountability, Conflict of Interest. POWER STRUGGLES OVER REGULATIONS

Article excerpt

FROM a cluttered suite of offices across a driveway from the West Wing of the White House, Vice President Dan Quayle's Council on Competitiveness has emerged as one of the most aggressive policy shops in the Bush administration.

It is drawing increasing fire in recent weeks from opponents denouncing the council's power as underhanded and skirting the limits of legality.

But the larger battle involves a balance of power between Congressional committees and White House conservatives over billion-dollar stakes. Both sides want maximum leverage in writing the rules that protect the environment, allow new drugs on the market, and limit lawsuits, among many other matters.

Conservative allies see the council as an ambitious group of deregulators trying to loosen the growing bonds of social and environmental regulation on American enterprise.

Many in Congress and liberal interest groups see the council as special pleader for business interests, undercutting laws by gutting regulations, hiding behind secrecy as White House staff, and pushing the limits of conflicts of interest.

The council, chaired by Mr. Quayle and run by his staff, reviews rules and regulations that federal agencies are developing to ensure they impose the least possible burden on business activity. Every administration since Nixon has had such a council lodged somewhere in the bureaucracy to vet regulations for cost and settle disputes between agencies.

But since Quayle brought in an aggressive young businessman, Allan Hubbard, to run the council staff, it has asserted itself on a broad front that ranges from defining wetlands to rules that carry out the Clean Air Act.

"There seems to be a change in tone," says David Hawkins, an air-pollution expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. While White House councils used to show more deference to experts in the agencies concerning regulations, now agencies are overruled unless the Quayle council's position is plainly illegal, he says. "It's a raw exercise of power."

"They try to win in the regulatory process what they lose in Congress," says Christine Triano, who monitors the council for the consumer-oriented Office of Management and Budget Watch. "All kinds of health and safety and environmental regulations are in serious jeopardy."

Congress is not taking this quietly. In the past several weeks, the council has come under investigation by three congressional subcommittees. …