Although our economy requires clear "rules of the road" to help protect public health, safety and the environment, the actual costs for businesses to comply with mounting federal regulations oftentimes exceed the hoped-for benefit.
Consequently, for those who value entrepreneurially-led economic growth, it is encouraging to have the White House issue an executive order requiring that "Where relevant ... each agency shall identify and consider regulatory approaches that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for the public."
Yesterday, President Obama issued just such an executive order. It builds directly on a framework formalized by President Clinton to require cost-benefit analysis of proposed regulations.
Obama's proposed regulatory review, however, goes two steps further. It mandates inter-agency cooperation to harmonize regulation by eliminating redundant, inconsistent or overlapping rules. It also requires a government-wide review of existing regulation, not just proposed rules.
Announcing his executive order in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Tuesday, Obama wrote that this means "using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices" and "getting rid of absurd and unnecessary paperwork."
While we fully endorse this effort to reform the unwieldy federal regulatory process, there are some reasons to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
Every president since Reagan has attempted to strengthen the role of the Office of Management and Budget to require accountability and rationality in federal regulations. Those processes, however, have not stopped the increase in federal regulations.
Susan Dudley, director of George Washington University's Regulatory Studies Center, estimates that the number of regulations whose economic impact exceeds $100 million per year continues to increase. The Clinton Administration passed an average of 47 such regulations each year. The Bush Administration passed an average of 48 per year and the Obama Administration has now passed an average of 66 such regulations per year.
Furthermore, some of the major anticipated changes in regulation would not go through this review. Independent agencies are exempt. Consequently, the independent financial watchdog created by the recent Dodd-Frank legislation would not have to comply.
It is heartening to see the White House put its rhetorical support behind regulatory reform, but until Washington's regulatory impulse actually stops, it is hard to believe that this executive order will fundamentally alter how Washington meddles in our affairs. We will wait and see.