Monday, September 19, 2011

Red Tape Regulations

Every day I see newspapers and television programs focusing on the horrible impact that regulations are having on our economy and our ability to produce well paying jobs in this country. At the CPSC, I continue to hear from businesses and individuals that are simply too frustrated or too small to comply with many of the burdens that our government is continuing to place on them. As a government and as an agency we are continuing to create red tape regulation that is simply killing our ability to compete with the rest of the world. Furthermore, we are failing to abide by the very rules and laws that we set forth when determining how to regulate.

A recent example of this is the Commission’s decision to change its interpretation of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act requirement that public pools have either an “unblockable drain” or a costly back-up system, to no longer permit unblockable drain covers to satisfy the requirement. As many of you know, this change, coming just 17 months after the announcement of the original interpretation, will require cash strapped states, municipalities, and community pools associations that, in reliance on the rule, incurred the expense of installing unblockable drain covers, to now start over with the installation of costly back-up systems. But perhaps more troubling than the result, is the fact that the Commission is apparently going forward with the change without seeking any input from the regulated community concerning the wisdom or cost of the reinterpretation. Indeed, the majority expressly rejected a Commissioner’s request that compliance officers in the fifty states at least be informed about the decision ahead of time to obtain their input.

This is particularly disturbing given the fact that all of the evidence currently before the Commission, including that there has not been a single drain entrapment death in three years, supports the conclusion that the existing rule effectively ensures public safety. Imposing additional costly burdens notwithstanding this fact would appear to be a definitional case of “unnecessarily” burdensome regulation. Notably, the original approach was adopted following the solicitation and consideration of public comment.

The new approach, according to the Federal Register Notice announcing the vote, was inspired by a large number of virtually identical form letters received from consumer advocates. In short, the Commission is reversing itself based on what amounts to the ex parte views of one interest group without even seeking the input of parties with potentially countervailing interests or views. So much for the President’s directive that independent agencies seek public comment and regulate based on real world evidence and data.

Last week, I wrote a letter to Administrator Cass Sunstein urging him to look into the actions of our agency and provide some much needed guidance on our current rulemaking agenda. I fear that if we do not stop to think about what our rules are doing to businesses, we will soon have far fewer businesses to regulate.

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