Dan Quayle, Regulation Terminator

You won't hear any Dan Quayle jokes from Roland S. Boreham Jr. The Fort Smith (Ark.) chief executive, whose Baldor Electric Co. builds motors, has signed up for Quayle's campaign to simplify product-liability laws. "The system is so doggone complicated and expensive, other countries are laughing at us," he says. "We're at a competitive disadvantage."

But is the Vice-President, whose shaky political reputation casts a long shadow over his role as head of the President's Council on Competitiveness, the guy to lead the charge? Boreham pauses. "To hell with that," he says. "When someone comes along, fighting back effectively, I say go for it."

'NO EXCUSE.' The polls show that lotsof folks still laugh at the boyish-look-ing Hoosier. But in Quayle's unsung role as deregulatory fanatic, he has found a niche in the city of long knives and short memories. "I do have a political agenda," Quayle told BUSINESS WEEK. "It's to have as few regulations as possible."

Those are words business loves. "I wasn't enamored when Bush chose him" as Vice-President, Hershey Foods Chairman Richard A. Zimmerman said at a recent GOP fund-raiser in Harrisburg, Pa. "But Quayle's looking better." Adds Malcolm W. Gambill, president mf Harsco Corp., a diversified manufacturer: "I'd probably vote for someone else for President. But the fact he's doing this is marvelous."

Normally, the job of screening regulations falls to the Office of Management & Budget. But President Bush has given the portfolio to the Vice-President. Since it was formed in 1989, Quayle's council has squelched dozens of regulations (table). Administration officials say he has been most successful in reining in the Environmental Protection Agency, less so in tempering the gung-ho Food & Drug Administration. His campaign against out-of-control legal fees got a boost on Oct. 23 when Bush directed all government agencies to follow Quayle's guidelines for holding down legal costs.

It's all raising some hackles. "There's no excuse for this kind of meddling," fumes one high-level EPA official about Quayle's efforts to soften final regulations for the revised Clean Air Act. Ralph Nader is blunter: "Dan Quayle is just a tool of corporate interests. He's looking for something to do until Jay Leno and David Letterman stop making fun of him on late-night television. This is bad policy, and he's going to pay for it politically." If Senator John H. Glenn (D-Ohio) has his way, the payments will start soon. Glenn has scheduled hearings of his Governmental Affairs Committee to consider whether Quayle is encroaching on the freedom of independent regulatory agencies.

Hearings or no, Quayle has big plans for his council. His aides are readying a proposal to speed approval of new drugs by the FDA. A January white paper will encourage easing legal restrictions on the activities of telephone companies. And Allan B. Hubbard, the council's executive director, has ordered a cost-benefit analysis of all federal government regulations over the past 15 years, though the methodology of such studies is widely considered suspect.

ROOSTING CHICKENS? Quayle's effort to become the regulatory terminator may not win him friends inside the Beltway, but it makes sense politically. He is galvanizing executives who will soon be asked to open their wallets for 1992's Presidential campaign--and who will be a key source of funding for Quayle's expected 1996 White House bid.

Democratic strategist William Galston thinks there may be some risk to Quayle. "These decisions will have consequences five years from now, and chances are one of them will come a cropper," says Galston. But he adds: "Quayle is working quite effectively to position himself as the champion of the moderate conservative mainstream."

To many in Washington, Quayle's regulatory review is unglamorous work. But George Bush disagrees. Back in 1981, the then-Vice-President took on much the same role as head of Ronald Reagan's regulatory task force. The result: Bush collected a fistful of corporate chits that came in handy in his Presidential campaign. That's a lesson Quayle is keeping firmly in mind as he dreams about 1996.

      As chairman of the Council on Competitiveness, Vice-President Dan Quayle is
      the Bush Administration's bureaucracy-buster. Some examples:
      ENVIRONMENT  The Council temporarily blocked Environmental Protection Agency
      efforts to reduce power plant sulfur emissions that affect visibility in the
      Grand Canyon. The Council also exempted old power plants from some Clean Air
      Act requirements if they are updating their equipment
      REGULATED INDUSTRIES  The Council is working on proposals to reduce the time it 
      takes for government approval of new drugs and to slash red tape for the
      biotechnology and telecommunications industries
      REAL ESTATE  The Council has endorsed legislation that would make it harder for 
      the federal government to take private property. It also wants to make it
      easier to develop certain kinds of wetlands now protected by law
      DATA: BW
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.