Little Credit Given for Rule Cuts With Big Savings

By Cheryl Bolen

Aug. 31 — Federal agencies have eliminated 70 regulatory provisions under a government-wide retrospective review plan launched by President Barack Obama in January 2011, saving billions of dollars but getting little enthusiasm from the small business community.

“To date, the retrospective review initiative has achieved an estimated $37 billion in cost savings, reduced paperwork, and other benefits for Americans over five years,” Howard Shelanski, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, announced in a blog post.

Some form of retrospective review, where federal agencies look back at the regulations already on the books for areas to modify, revise or repeal, has been undertaken by every president since Jimmy Carter. Obama has been the first to make it an ongoing requirement of all agencies.

Still, Dan Bosch, senior manager of regulatory policy at the National Federation of Independent Business, said “we haven’t been impressed with the effort from the outset.”

Agencies Release Plans

The timing of the announcement coincides with the release by federal agencies of their last set of biannual reports for this president describing how they intend to continue their review of regulations in the remaining months of this administration.

Agencies in the last five years have completed more than 800 retrospective review initiatives, Shelanski said.

Yet, more important than looking back is creating better rules to begin with, Bosch told Bloomberg BNA.

“The problem is not the rules that are already on the books per se, it’s the uncertainty about future regulations,” Bosch said.

Better Rules to Begin With

As an example of the savings from retrospective review, Shelanski said that in 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency eliminated a provision in an old rule that required some dairy farmers to prove that they could contain a milk spill.

By exempting milk and milk product containers from the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure program, the EPA helped milk and dairy industries save an estimated $800 million over five years, Shelanski said.

Bosch, however, said this was an example of a rule that never should have been on the books to begin with.

“We’d rather see them work on reforming the regulatory process so that rules like that don’t get on the books to start with, because then they’re very difficult to get rid of,” he said.

Room for Improvement

Sofie Miller, senior policy analyst at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, said the Obama administration's retrospective review initiative is working as intended in the sense that agencies are filing reports about their plans and what they could be doing differently.

“I think it’s important to get people thinking about what else could we be doing,” Miller told Bloomberg BNA. “And that’s a success to the extent that it does institutionalize a culture of evaluation.”

Miller called the initiative a good step in the right direction, but cautioned that every administration since Carter's has had its own version of retrospective review.

“So it’s pretty much expected that the next president would have a sort of version of this. Whether it’s new and original, or builds off of this particular endeavor, I’m not sure,” Miller said. “But there’s room for improvement.”

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

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