On my computer, I have some 33 choices under “System Preferences”, neatly organized into 5 categories and it all seems to work to serve my needs and support my work. Cool beans! However, I have run into another system which is certainly organized as part of a bureaucracy that is beyond belief. Do we need less government? Yes, or maybe it’s that we need a more efficient and a less wasteful government. Regardless, it’s no wonder we’re bogged down in DC and little progress seems imminent. Here is but one small example of a system that goes on largely unnoticed by most of us.
According to the Office of the Federal Register, in 1998, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the official listing of all regulations in effect, contained a total of 134,723 pages in 201 volumes that claimed 19 feet of shelf space. In 1970, the CFR totaled only 54,834 pages. Our lives and those of our children are being “regulated” daily without our recognition or approval in every area from food and drugs and agriculture to planes, trains and automobiles right down to the label on furniture that says it is illegal to remove it and each of us has probably taken great pleasure in doing so. It’s a miracle that we and our children actually survived without seat belts and car seats for kids. At least my truck has U Connect, a hands free device that allows me to hear and talk on my cell phone through the radio speaker. Consider the following.
The General Accounting Office reports that in the four fiscal years from 1996 to 1999, a total of 15,286 new federal regulations went into effect. Of these, 222 were classified as “major” rules, each one having an annual effect on the economy of at least $100 million. [Source: Costs of Federal Regulation, the Heritage Foundation] Wonder how many have gone into effect since 1999? There are 50 general categories that regulate just about anything that moves, lives or breathes.
While they call the process “rulemaking,” the regulatory agencies create and enforce “rules” that are truly laws, many with the potential to profoundly effect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans. What controls and oversight are placed on the regulatory agencies in creating the federal regulations?
The Clean Air Act, The Food and Drug Act, The Civil Rights Act — examples of landmark legislation requiring months, even years of highly publicized planning, debate, compromise and reconciliation in Congress. Yet the work of creating the vast and ever-growing volumes of “federal regulations,” the real and enforceable laws behind the acts, happens largely unnoticed in the offices of the government agencies rather than the halls of Congress.
What are federal regulations? Where do they come from and under what oversight are they written, enacted and, at least once so far, de-enacted? Federal regulations created by the regulatory agencies are subject to review by both the president and Congress under Executive Order 12866 and the Congressional Review Act of 1966.
Executive Order 12866, issued on Sept. 30, 1993, by President Clinton, stipulates steps that must be followed by executive branch agencies before regulations issued by them are allowed to take effect.
For all regulations, a detailed cost-benefit analysis must be performed. Regulations with an estimated cost of $100 million or more are designated “major rules,” and require completion of a more detailed Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA). The RIA must justify the cost of the new regulation and must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before the regulation can take effect.
Executive Order 12866 also requires all regulatory agencies to prepare and submit to OMB annual plans to establish regulatory priorities and improve coordination of the Administration’s regulatory program.
The OMB publishes this Report of Regulations Pending and Reviews Completed – Last 30 Days. The report is updated every weekday.
While some requirements of Executive Order 12866 apply only to executive branch agencies, all federal regulatory agencies fall under the controls of the Congressional Review Act.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA), passed in 1996 as part of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, allows Congress 60 in-session days to review and possibly reject new federal regulations issued by the regulatory agencies.
Under the CRA, the regulatory agencies are required to submit all new rules to the leaders of both the House and Senate. In addition, the General Accounting Office (GAO) provides to those congressional committees related to the new regulation, a detailed report on each new major rule.
Should any member of Congress object to a new regulation, he or she can introduce a “Resolution of Disapproval” to have the regulation rejected. Should the resolution pass both House and Senate by simple majority votes, and the president signs it, the regulation basically vanishes.
Since going into effect in 1996, the Congressional Review Act has been successfully invoked exactly once. On March 7, 2001, Congress gave it’s final approval to Senate Joint Resolution 6 disapproving the controversial final regulations on ergonomics created by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) and set to take effect in October, 2001
I do not know what motivated the movement of opposition, but someone, somewhere got sufficiently organized to mount a campaign to support the disapproval. While viewed by many among labor organizations as a worker health and safety issue, the ergonomics regulation is an illustration of the ongoing debate between external control and personal responsibility. Why do so many people believe that they need someone else watching out for their interests instead of being able to do it themselves? In the creation of a welfare state, mentality and attitude goes way beyond making monthly payments to people who are economically disadvantaged.
Regulatory Agencies: Agencies, like the FDA, EPA, OSHA and at least 50 others, are called “regulatory” agencies, because they are empowered to create and enforce rules – regulations – that carry the full force of a law. Individuals, businesses, and private and public organizations can be fined, sanctioned, forced to close, and even jailed for violating federal regulations.
I recall being introduced in 1994 to ADA – Public Law 101-336, enacted July 26, 1990, which regulates, among many other things, accessibility to buildings for Americans with disabilities and in my particular case the issue surrounded remodeling a building for use as a private school. Were we going to have to put in an elevator to accommodate any student who could not use the steps? Was that, according to the law, a “reasonable accommodation?” And who is going to determine the answer to all the questions?
Would we also have to provide designated parking places for people with special physical needs? Would all the required signs need to be posted in all the required places?
This regulation was on top of all the local building code requirements for a certificate of occupancy which had to be issued after inspections by the fire department, the city building inspector, the state environmental agency, and numerous others. Frustrating, time consuming and expensive? Yes. Impossible? No. Did we get it done? Yes. Was each requirement fulfilled to the letter of the law? No. Did we open the school anyway? Yes. Were we fined or jailed? No. Did we have lawyers to help us? Yes.
In addition to all the Federal requirements legislated and imposed upon us, without so much as a vote or voice from the populace, you can add a myriad of regulations that come down from state, county and city offices as well, all the way down to such minute requirements as those for parking. If you live in New York or London, try figuring out all the various parking regulations and various signs posted indicating those restrictions. Or try dealing with some of the state licensing requirements for different kinds of businesses.
And then there is the famous Reg Penna Dept Agr which in my mind became symbolic for all the food labeling requirements. These are not necessarily regarded as undesirable in terms of intentions but taken as a whole, this society seems to be one of the more externally controlled, restricted and protected of any that I know. Many would say thank goodness that big brother is looking out for their best interests but you should also know that underneath much of this is the fear that many people harbor that allows them to be manipulated by others even without their knowledge or consent.
I am not talking about any conspiracy theory or paranoia, simply trying to observe a level of awareness or the lack thereof. How much do we really know or care to know? What makes sense? Sometimes all we can do is sit back and laugh (or cry) at so much foolishness and really, so much waste. Waste of time, energy and resources that could all be put toward other things that would be a lot more useful and productive.
The fear is the same kind that allows an inept security system at airports to spend gazillions of dollars with little improvement in real security. The façade of security is intended to help people believe that they are more secure when in fact, they may or may not be. The point is that once again we have turned over the control to an external source, much the same as we do with the governmental and other institutional regulations.
The power of the individual rests quietly inside one’s own belief that one can make a difference. There are many ways to make a difference, to raise a voice in protest, to say that you will not allow foolishness to over rule reason, to actively not accept less than what has been promised and finally, to engage relentlessly in setting things right.
It is not easy and it takes time. You have to be willing to live with a bureaucracy and do whatever it takes to hang in there, cut through the jungle of nonsense and come out refreshed and renewed on the other side of success. Good luck and godspeed!