In keeping with a Republican pledge to make regulatory reform a centerpiece of this Congress, lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced a bill to put the brakes on new regulations from federal agencies.

The Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (H.R. 50) would introduce a host of new requirements at the earliest stages of the regulatory process, including one requiring that regulators consult with the regulated community before a rule costing at least $100 million in a year is proposed, and throughout the rulemaking process. The bill applies to all federal agencies, including independent agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Before publishing a notice of proposed rulemaking, agencies would be required to publish a statement that provides a draft of the proposal, explains the need for it, and states how the rule would meet the need. The statement would include quantitative and qualitative assessments of both costs and benefits, along with a “detailed description” of regulators’ consultations with affected parties and a summary of the parties’ comments and concerns. 

The bill also includes a provision giving leaders of any congressional committee authority to request a retrospective analysis of any agency regulation, followed by a report by the agency which in part would present an analysis of the retrospective costs and benefits of the rule, including studies done outside the federal government.

On February 4, H.R. 50 passed in the House on a vote of 250-173 and was referred to committees of jurisdiction. The legislation drew some bipartisan support, but was criticized immediately by unions and public interest groups. 

“Transparency and accountability are not partisan issues,” Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the Republican co-sponsor of the bill, said in a January 27 statement. “This legislation is purely about making government work better for the American people by requiring openness and honesty from Washington about the true cost of regulations, whether those costs come in dollars or in lost jobs.” 

The Democratic co-sponsor, Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), said the bill “increases transparency in the regulatory process and protects state and local governments from the burden of unfunded and often unnecessary mandates that waste time and money.” 

Others had a decidedly different take, describing the legislation as a giveaway to corporations by allowing businesses to kill proposed rules before the public even becomes aware of them. It also would burden agencies with busywork, they declared.

In a statement, Katherine McFate of the Center for Effective Government contended that the bill “doesn't improve or streamline the regulatory process, which is already plagued by hurdles and delays,” and added that the Act “would make it even more difficult for agencies to implement laws enacted by Congress.”  

Recounting the Wall Street economic collapse, several food and product safety failures and environmental spills as examples of what he said were the costs of deregulation, Robert Weissman of Public Citizen commented, “All of them demonstrate the need for a regulatory system that protects the public, not corporate interests.” 

The bill is at least the second to come out of the new Congress dealing with regulations. In January, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (H.R. 527), which would require agencies to consider the indirect economic impacts of their rules on small businesses.