Paperwork reduction plan progresses

Aiming to reduce federal regulatory paperwork, the House Government Reform Committee voted Wednesday to require the Office of Management and Budget to devote more effort to identify ways to simplify federal forms.

The committee approved the measure (H.R. 2432) by voice vote over the objections of minority committee members who characterized it as little more than window dressing.

Specifically, the bill would direct OMB to look for ways to reduce paperwork associated with the Internal Revenue Service, which accounts for 83 percent of federal regulatory paperwork for the public.

Acknowledging the complexity of the bill, Chairman Tom Davis of Virginia said, "This is not always the sexiest stuff." But, he added, "It's critically important as a 'good governance' issue." Davis said complicated regulatory and tax paperwork can stymie the economy, forcing business owners to devote time to filling out federal forms instead of running their businesses.

But the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California called the bill "all PR and no substance. It's a public relations strategy to make the public think the Republicans have a plan to strengthen the economy. This bill is a great prop ... but that's all it is," Waxman said. He added that he believes the Bush administration is not serious about reducing paperwork, noting that the public spent 700 million more hours filling out federal paperwork in 2003 than in the last year of the Clinton administration.

The bill would make permanent the authorization for the General Accounting Office to analyze major rules proposed by federal agencies. In the 2000 Truth in Regulating Act, Congress authorized a three-year pilot program for that authorization, but GAO never staffed the project.

The legislation would also require OMB to integrate its regulatory accounting reports with its annual budget report, so lawmakers could compare the on-budget and off-budget costs associated with each agency requiring paperwork by the public.

Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee chairman and the bill's sponsor, offered a managers amendment that more clearly specifies how OMB would review the IRS paperwork burden. It would also would require OMB to designate three or more agencies to participate in a study on regulatory budgeting for fiscal years 2006 and 2007. The amendment passed on voice vote after the committee defeated all the Democrat amendments to Ose's manager's amendent.

The Democrat amendments included ones offered by:

  • Waxman that would establish a commission of scientific experts to investigate "the politicization of science" by the Bush administration. Waxman said the committee should be more focused on this type of regulation reform than reducing paperwork "to favor big industries." Ose said he thought Waxman's amendment was not germane to the bill and "a little bit over the edge," and Davis charged Waxman with setting up a "taxpayer-funded investigation of Bush administration regulatory policy." The amendment failed on a 12-21 roll call vote.
  • Waxman that would have included the fiscal 2003 estimates for paperwork burdens. The underlying bill references the fiscal 2002 levels. Ose said the bill already recognizes the increasing amount of federal paperwork, and including 2003 estimates would be unnecessary. The provision failed 16-22. Another Waxman amendment would have included language discrediting the paperwork burden study on which most current regulatory decisions are based. Ose said the study is "currently the best study we have" and that Waxman's amendment would do nothing to reduce regulatory burdens on the public. That measure failed 18-23.
  • Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass, which would make public all communication between a federal agency and OMB during the rulemaking process. "The amendment would let some sunshine in on OMB's role in the rulemaking process," he said. Ose said requiring "every single OMB communication to be meticulously reviewed by this body is unreasonable," and added that the amendment "raises serious separation-of-power questions." Tierney's amendment failed 14-21.
  • Tierney, that would have struck from the bill the language requiring an OMB study on federal regulatory budgeting. Tierney said the bill does not clearly define what "regulatory budgeting" is, and he called that provision of the bill "ambiguous and misguided." That amendment failed 13-23.
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, that would maintain the Truth in Regulating Act, which Ose's underlying bill would make permanent, as a pilot program. The amendment failed on a voice vote.
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