Obama’s push to cut red tape not working, GOP lawmakers charge

The Obama administration’s government-wide initiative to prune away burdensome regulations is insignificant compared to an overgrowth of new rules emanating from federal agencies, GOP lawmakers charged Wednesday.

“The small number of burden-reducing actions pale in comparison to the fast-growing thicket of red tape,” Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said in remarks at a hearing to measure the effort’s success.

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Through a pair of executive orders issued in 2011 and 2012, President Obama directed agencies to review existing regulations and identify rules that can be dialed back or scrapped altogether. Agencies are to give special consideration to small businesses, which have complained loudly that the stream of regulations raised operating costs and hampered economic recovery.

On Wednesday, members of the Small Business panel questioned agency officials on their progress in stripping away red tape.  Representatives from the Transportation Department, the Agriculture Department and the Small Business Administration testified that the agencies were working to streamline operations on many fronts.

A move now under way at the Transportation Department would rescind requirements that truck drivers submit – and their companies retain – paper driver-vehicle inspection reports, even when there are no violations found. Getting rid of the rule would save an estimated $1.5 billion in annual costs to the trucking company, said Transportation Under Secretary Polly Trottenberg.

Trottenberg and the other agency officials listed a litany of areas where they are moving form paper-based filing and record keeping to electronic systems.

At the Small Business Administration, efforts to simplify a loan program would lessen paperwork burdens associated with requirements that applicants demonstrate their company qualifies as a small business, said Jeanne Hulit, SBA’s associate administrator for capital access.

The action is expected to support $30 billion in additional financing, she said.

Similarly, the Agriculture Department is moving to simplify its grant applications assistance programs, so that companies can apply for funding without having to hire a professional grant writer, testified Cheryl Cook, the agency’s chief information officer.

The successes are overshadowed by an overall increase in the number of regulations on the books, several Republican lawmakers on the panel said.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) faulted agencies for failing to keep track of the total number of regulations they add or remove.

“You have to measure it – you have to hold yourselves accountable,” Collins told the administration officials. “We’re never going to have a reduction in regulations — that’s not one of the reasons you go into work every day."

Under questioning from Collins, the officials submitted that the total number of rules is not dropping.

“There’s no question that, in terms of the net number, it is increasing,” Trottenberg said.

However, she noted that most regulations are required under the laws that Congress passes. The transportation bill approved last summer with bipartisan support will require 50 to 60 new rules, she said.

“The agency can’t unilaterally un-do a congressional mandate,” Trottenberg said.