Yesterday, President Obama issued an Executive Order, "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review", announcing a review of all federal agency regulations. According to the Order and accompanying documents released by the White House, this effort aims to streamline rules and reduce burdens on small businesses, while increasing “transparency and accountability in regulatory compliance.” While many have been quick to identify this as part of a post-election trend by a White House seeking to mend fences with the business community, it is clear that the President also intends to increase scrutiny, pressure and consequences upon “bad actors.”

The White House “fact sheet” accompanying the issuance of the Order states:

Today, President Obama signed an Executive Order outlining his regulatory strategy to support continued economic growth and job creation, while protecting the safety, health and rights of all Americans. This strategy builds on best practices of the past, while adapting to challenges the country faces today and establishing a smart path for the future. As part of the immediate implementation of this strategy, the President also issued a memorandum to the heads of Executive Agencies and Departments calling for more transparency and accountability in regulatory compliance, as well as a memorandum emphasizing the need to reduce burdens on small businesses whenever possible.

An express extension and reaffirmation of President Clinton’s Executive Order No. 12866, this Order and accompanying documents call on federal agencies “to design cost-effective, evidence-based regulations that are compatible with economic growth, job creation, and competitiveness.”

The Order and accompanying documents provide an outline of “guiding principles” as follows: 

    • Cost-effective and Cost-Justified: Consistent with law, Agencies must consider costs and benefits and choose the least burdensome path.

    • Transparent: The regulatory process must be transparent and include public participation, with an opportunity for the public to comment.

    • Coordinated and Simplified: Agencies must attempt to coordinate, simplify, and harmonize regulations to reduce costs and promote certainty for businesses and the public.

    • Flexible: Agencies must consider approaches that maintain freedom of choice and flexibility, including disclosure of relevant information to the public.

    • Science-driven: Regulations must be guided by objective scientific evidence.

    • Necessary and Up-to-Date: Existing regulations must be reviewed to determine that they are still necessary and crafted effectively to solve current problems. If they are outdated, they must be changed or repealed.

An accompanying memorandum to Executive Department heads directs federal agencies to make compliance information easily accessible, and available for download, to the public. As it might pertain to workplace regulation, this element certainly sounds like a nod in the direction of the “High Road Contracting” database long expected by federal contractors:

Consistent regulatory enforcement also levels the playing field among regulated entities, ensuring that those that fail to comply with the law do not have an unfair advantage over their law-abiding competitors.  Greater agency disclosure of compliance and enforcement data will provide Americans with information they need to make informed decisions.

This part of the President’s initiative is clearly intended to increase pressure on entities who violate federal statutes and regulations — including employers who might violate labor laws. Overall, however, the President described all these efforts in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning thus:

But creating a 21st-century regulatory system is about more than which rules to add and which rules to subtract. As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs. This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens. It means using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices. And it means making sure the government does more of its work online, just like companies are doing.

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