Riding Herd on Regulation

Article excerpt

CONGRESSIONAL enactment of laws regulating business, such as safety and environmental statutes, is just the beginning of the process by which government imposes standards and obligations - and costs - on enterprise.

It then falls to an army of economists, scientists, lawyers, and other specialists in the federal departments and agencies to draft the detailed rules by which the laws will be applied. Some 122,000 federal employees are currently engaged in writing about 4,900 regulations under authority delegated by Congress.

Since the Ford years, presidents - Democrat Jimmy Carter as well as Republicans - have sought to institute centralized oversight of this sprawling regulatory apparatus. Their objectives have been to lessen inflation, improve competitiveness, and standardize regulations.

And, from the start, Congress has resisted. Part of the fight has been over turf; some members of Congress regard White House activism in the regulatory process as an unconstitutional breach of separation of powers. Differences have also been ideological, though; congressional Democrats have complained that the executive branch skews the regulatory process in favor of business.

Present congressional attacks on the White House Council on Competitiveness should be considered in this light. The council, comprised of President Bush's top economic-policy advisers and chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle, was created in 1989 to minimize regulatory costs on businesses that could impede American competitiveness. …