Federal Agencies Seldom Check If Rules Pre-Empt State, Local Laws

Article excerpt

Federal agencies are all but ignoring an executive order first put forth by President Reagan requiring they prepare federalism assessments to determine if rules and regulations pre-empt state and local laws, according to the General Accounting Office.

In a review of more than 11,000 rules and regulations issued from April 1996 to December 1998, the GAO found federal agencies had prepared only five federalism assessments.

The worst offender was the Environmental Protection Agency, which completely ignored the order and whether its regulations impeded local authority in more than 1,900 rules it listed during this period.

"Congress and the administration should not take lightly this pre-emption of state and local laws," said Chairman Fred Thompson of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"This has to do with accountability. Everyone gives lip service and says we want this done, but then no one pays attention to the fact it's not getting done," said Mr. Thompson, who requested the GAO study.

The Tennessee Republican is the lead sponsor of the Federalism Accountability Act, which would require Congress and federal agencies to issue an explicit statement of intent when they pre-empt state or local law, and an explanation of the reasons for pre-emption.

Clinton administration officials challenged the GAO report released during the Governmental Affairs Committee hearing yesterday and said congressional action was not warranted.

"It's not necessary to put this into law. We can deal with this by executive order," said John T. Spotila, administrator of information and regulatory affairs in the Office of Management and Budget. …