Not content with restricting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect public health and the environment (see http://www.foreffectivegov.org/blog/congresss-latest-assault-epa), anti-regulatory members of Congress have broadened their sights to encompass the entire scope of federal agencies that provide public protections and safeguard the American people.

On July 24, Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Doug Collins (R-GA) introduced H.R. 5184, the National Regulatory Budget Act of 2014, which would set an annual “regulatory cost” limit for each executive branch agency, as well as a yearly national limit for all regulatory costs. Calculating these costs and establishing these "budgets" would fall to a new independent agency, the Office of Regulatory Analysis. This new agency would also provide Congress with recommendations on how regulations could be “streamlined, simplified, and modernized” and would identify rules that the agency thinks should be repealed. The bill essentially mirrors S. 2153, introduced in the Senate on March 25 by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The bills conveniently focus solely on the costs of agency rules and completely ignore the important health, safety, and public welfare benefits that these protections provide to us all. As the Center for Effective Government's recent report on the benefits of public protections notes, actual costs of complying with standards and safeguards are usually substantially lower than original estimates. Such estimates often rely on exaggerated industry figures and don’t account for cost reductions that occur due to technological innovation.

More importantly, ignoring the significant public benefits of rules presents a distorted, one-sided picture of the important role that government plays in balancing the public interest against the profit-focused goals of the private sector. Allowing Congress to set an arbitrary “budget cap” on the cost of rules is a not-so-subtle mechanism for limiting the ability of individual agencies and the federal government as a whole to respond to emerging hazards and provide important public and worker protections. 

Lastly, staff at the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), who currently have responsibility for reviewing the costs of federal agency rules, should hope these bills don’t become law. One of the first products that the new Office of Regulatory Analysis is charged with developing is a report to Congress on federal government positions that duplicate the work of, or whose work is rendered “cost ineffective” by, the new office. OIRA, that means you.

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