In Assault on Regulation, Trump Follows Path of Mixed Results

  • Earlier presidents also moved to reduce regulatory burdens
  • Trump signed executive order calling for agency task forces

President Donald Trump’s move to place task forces inside government agencies to monitor rulemaking follows a long line of presidential attempts to prune the regulatory state.

Sometimes the efforts actually bear fruit.

Presidents for decades have tried to trim rules, including President Barack Obama, said Neil Kerwin, president of American University in Washington and founder of the Center for the Study of Rulemaking.

“The record is spotty," Kerwin said. "It depends on how persistently the administration stays with it.”

Read more: Trump Order Imposes Additional Layer of Oversight on Regulations

President Bill Clinton, his successor George W. Bush and Obama all tried to limit rules, said Jeffrey Lubbers, who teaches administrative law at American University’s Washington College of Law. Obama, for instance, announced in January 2011 an order to get rid of rules that stifle job growth.

“They all succeeded to some extent,” Lubbers said. "They all got rid of some regulations."

Trump on Friday signed an executive order calling for each federal agency to create a task force to review existing regulations and make recommendations about which should be repealed or modified.

“Excessive regulation is killing jobs,” Trump said at an Oval Office signing ceremony. “Every regulation should have to pass a simple test: Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers? If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it.”

The move followed an earlier executive order by Trump requiring government agencies to identify two regulations for elimination for every one new regulation issued.

Many presidents, however, find the process harder than it seems. Dislodging mandates, like enshrining them, requires drafting new regulations and subjecting them to public scrutiny. That’s by design: Regulations are supposed to be tough to write, and, once written, tough to withdraw on a whim, without deliberation.

“It has been tried before,” said Darrell West, vice president of governance studies with the Brookings Institution.

President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s and his successor Ronald Reagan both used task forces with some success, with Carter eliminating airline rules and Reagan trimming financial regulations, West said.

Read more: Obama Orders Regulation Review to Boost U.S. Growth

Obama’s White House issued fewer rules than his predecessor Bush, although the Democrat produced more major rules as judged by their cost, said Lubbers.

Bush issued 328 final regulations that were economically significant -- those generally expected to have an annual effect on the economy of at least $100 million -- according to the the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Obama issued 453 economically significant final rules during his tenure in the White House, according to the office.

Trump’s action on Friday left industries issuing wish lists of rules to be killed, and advocates warning that many regulations are valuable.

“Don’t be fooled,” Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. “No matter how President Trump tries to dress it up, this order is a directive to kill the safeguards Americans depend on for clean air, drinkable water and safe food.”

Harder Than it Sounds: Trump Will Find Some Regulations Easier to Kill Than Others

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, applauded Trump.

“In the past few years, our industry has faced a regulatory onslaught,” said the group’s president, Jack Gerard. “Today’s action by President Trump will unleash innovation across the nation, and it will allow our economy to grow, help lower energy costs for consumers, and help American workers.”

It will take awhile to actually trim rules because agencies need to follow set procedures, just as they do when writing regulations, said West, the Brookings Institution expert.

"They need evidence of the costs of various regulations,” West said “They can’t just say we think this is a bad regulation and we need to get rid of it. They need to put evidence on the table."

— With assistance by Toluse Olorunnipa, and Jennifer A Dlouhy

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