White House Red-Tape Cutters Tabulate $23 Billion in Fiscal 2018 Savings

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The Trump administration’s rule re-makers on Tuesday reported $23 billion in cost savings during fiscal 2018 stemming from 176 actions, large and small, that thwart “burdensome and unnecessary regulation.”

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released both a summary of agency actions last year as well as the fall plans for fiscal 2019 actions to carry out President Trump’s January 2017 Executive Order 13771 requiring rule cutbacks. The departments undergoing the most rule changes were Health and Human Services, Education and Transportation. The administration estimated $33 billion in total savings since Trump took office.

The Obama administration, by contrast, in its first 21 months issued rules at a cost of $245 billion, OIRA calculated.

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President Trump “recognized that these regulations were hurting Americans; farmers, small businesses and other job creators,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. “This president was determined to correct the wrongs of the past so that Americans could once again be free to grow their businesses, provide for their families and make their own decisions.”

The deregulatory point person, OIRA Administrator Neomi Rao, added, “This is a fundamental change in direction. Agencies have actually reduced overall regulatory burdens. This administration has focused on the rule of law, ensuring that agencies stay within their authority and regulate only when necessary. The reform agenda emphasizes individual freedom and unleashing the potential of American workers, innovators and businesses.”

Across government, the ratio of repeals to new rules issued was 12-1, OIRA reported, with only 14 new major rules. Agencies withdrew or delayed 648 rules in fiscal 2018, or 2,253 since Trump’s inauguration.

The administration plans “even bolder” reforms in 2019, White House documents said, eyeing navigable water and wetland regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency and fuel-economy standards from the Transportation Department. The future plans also will aim for consistency across government. “The agenda reflects core administration priorities for reducing regulatory burdens across administrative agencies,” OIRA wrote, “including in the anticipated deregulatory and regulatory actions from the historically independent agencies.”

In touting its “historic reforms,” OIRA also mentioned its efforts at greater transparency in rulemaking and the methodology of cost-benefit analysis. “This administration has also published the so-called ‘inactive list,’ a list of regulations contemplated by agencies, but previously not made public in the agenda,” the office wrote. “Agencies continue to review these lists and remove actions they no longer plan to pursue,” which “promotes accountability” and provides “a more accurate picture of regulations in the pipeline.”

The deregulatory push “is very much exceeding the president’s call,” a senior administration official told reporters in a Tuesday conference call.  “It’s an amazing turnaround.” The effort to use “common sense to eliminate regulations that are no longer working for the American people will at the same time meet our responsibility to protect health, safety and the environment,” the official said. An additional change is in the reduction of paperwork, including “guidance documents and FAQs that have no benefit.”

The White House has drawn from “the successful experience of similar deregulatory programs in the United Kingdom and Canada,” and guidance that “explained that even small deregulatory actions would be counted in order to incentivize agencies to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens of all sizes.”

Asked about an OMB staff report released in February that assigned far more value to the benefits of regulations in recent years, the official said, those reports “reflect agency …. cost and benefits analysis of rules before they go into effect, and often when a rule is actually in effect, they learn … that there are more costs than benefits.”

The senior official rejected the common criticism that the Trump approach favors large industry and harms average citizens. “A lot of regulations put in place have seemingly have good intentions and help special interests, but we try to assure that regulations are helping the American people as a whole. When you pull back regulations, you are creating more competition and helping small businesses enter different markets.”

The OIRA reports drew fire from consumer groups. The liberal-leaning Public Citizen analyzed the 14 significant final actions from 2018 and “determined that none of them can be credibly described as significantly improving the public’s health and safety or saving lives,” it said in a Wednesday statement.

“This a clear indication that our regulatory agencies have been corrupted and captured by corporate interests,” said Lisa Gilbert, the group’s vice president of legislative affairs. “The administration altogether ignores the benefits of the rules it is cutting, and then it wildly exaggerates the size of the purported savings to big business.”

Specifically, Public Citizen added, the administration acknowledges that the $23 billion in claimed savings to corporations is not an annual figure for fiscal 2018 but rather over a “perpetual time horizon.” The annual value, it calculated, amounts to only $1.61 billion in savings this year.

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