President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.
In an executive order published last week in theFederal Register, the president said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.
The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by EPA and OSHA.
Typically, agencies issue regulations under authority granted to them in laws enacted by Congress. In many cases, the statute does not say precisely what agencies should do, giving them considerable latitude in interpreting the law and developing regulations.
The directive says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention.
Besides placing political appointees in charge of rule making, the order said agencies must give the White House an opportunity to review “any significant guidance documents” before they are issued.
Under the executive order, each federal agency must estimate “the combined aggregate costs and benefits of all its regulations” each year. Until now, agencies often tallied the costs and the benefits of major rules one by one, without measuring the cumulative effects.