When he issues pronouncements, President Trump isn’t always in sync with congressional Republicans, nor does he always appear to have a strategy.
But in the case of his Jan. 23 promise to business leaders to cut regulations by 75 percent, Trump is drawing in part from the three regulatory reform bills passed by the House this month, but also from the views of a key adviser.
Marcus Peacock, a distinguished research professor at George Washington University and former deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, headed Trump’s “beachhead” transition team on the EPA. Peacock in December published a detailed study analyzing the “two for one” approach that candidate Trump committed to in his “Contract with the American Voter,” which stated that every new regulation would have to be offset by the elimination of two existing ones.
That approach has also impressed Jitinder Kohli, a director in the public sector practice at Deloitte Consulting LLP, who previously ran the British Government’s Better Regulation Executive (a counterpart to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs). “To some extent, the Trump administration’s policies appear to be modeled on the U.K. experience,” Kohli told Government Executive on Thursday. British efforts to ease the burden of regulations on industry—carried out in cooperation with its consumer council, he said—began with a goal of one regulation out for every new one in. Then it moved to one for two and is currently one for three.
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Such quantitative approaches to regulatory reform are also being used in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Denmark, Kohli said, saving around 25 percent of industry costs. In Britain, the savings during the past decade have risen to $10 billion a year. “Saying every time you bring in a new rule, some rule has to be taken out is a big incentive change,” he said. “But if you want to change the culture, you have to have a lever to make sure change occurred; a tool that requires you to measure and deliver a certain amount of reduction is clearly important,” he said.
Regulatory lookbacks of the type pursued for the past eight years under the Obama administration “have limits,” Kohli said. “You need to quantify to make a difference.”
Within agencies, Kohli added, writing regulations is “like buying clothes and putting them in a closet. Over time, the closet gets full, and you need to shine a torch in the closet and find ways to clear it out.”
In the United States, of course, consumer, health and environmental groups are already revving up to oppose the Republican and Trump versions of regulatory reform as a danger to public safety. In Britain, Kohli said, the cultural change was achieved in consultation with consumer interests.
“Sometimes people think regulation is like a choice—you either have more protection and more regulation and more costs, or you have less regulation and less costs,” he said. “In the actual world, it’s not as simple as that. How you regulate has a significant impact. And that insight was the crux of our pivot. We think of it as a win-win.”
Through discussions, the agencies rarely eliminated a regulation, Kohli said. More often they redid forms so they were easier for businesses to fill in, or they issued clearer guidance on what businesses needed to do to comply with the law in a more efficient way that costs less money.” Clearer guidance, he said, raises the likelihood that businesses will be compliant.
Separately, on Thursday, a veteran of the January 2001 “parachute team” for the incoming George W. Bush presidency recently described in the Wall Street Journal a strategy for halting the Labor Department’s output of regulations being sent to the Federal Register. Back then it meant securing the fax machine, which, he wrote, was being manned for the entire department by an elusive Mitchell Sykes. He was described as a “nebbish” with a high-pitched voice who was “balding, bespectacled, with J.C. Penney slacks hiked above his waist.” His powers over the nation’s regulatory system were unceremoniously halted that Jan. 22.
Today’s proposed and final rules, of course, are posted online at Federal Register.gov. A glance at trends during the final weeks of Obama and the first week of Trump showed a final uptick from the Democratic administration and sharp decline under Trump. We’ll see if that trend continues.