Officials from the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation and the General Services Administration appeared before a House Oversight joint subcommittee hearing Tuesday to update members on the progress of the regulatory task forces President Trump ordered each agency to create to find existing rules to repeal.
The Defense Department claims to have found 88 rules it might be able to repeal, while the Transportation Department expects half of all its rulemakings in 2018 to be deregulatory actions.
The task forces were part of a February executive order in which Trump directed the agencies to find two regulations to rescind for every new rule they issue.
Joo Chung, director of the Oversight and Compliance Directorate in the Defense Department's Office of the Deputy Chief Management Officer, said the task force has already reviewed 17 percent of the department’s regulations and is on track to review them all by the end of 2018.
“Most of the task force's recommendations thus far have been to eliminate or modify unnecessary, outdated or ineffective regulations and several reviews have resulted in recommendations to consolidate rules into a single DOD level rule, which will provide the public with one governing, unifying regulation and consistent application of rules on the public,” she said.
Committee Democrats, however, expressed concerns about the task forces' levels of transparency. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said Congress has yet to even learn who is on the task forces.
“These task forces appear to be filled with industry lobbyists acting on behalf of special interests and agencies are moving to repeal regulations that benefit industry with little regard to the health and safety of the public,” she said.
“It is also unclear with whom these task forces are meeting, whether they are balancing the interests of industry with those of consumers and other parties, and which rules these task forces have recommended for repeal.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), ranking member of the Oversight Subcommittee on Healthcare, Benefits and Administrative Rules, wanted to know if the agencies are repealing or considering the repeal of any guidance documents.
While reviewing internal guidance documents aren’t part of the regulatory task force review, Chung said the Defense Department is considering them. Giancarlo Brizzi, principles deputy associate administrator in the General Service Administration's Office of Government-wide Policy, said he wasn’t aware of any repeal of guidance documents at the GSA.
James Owens, acting general counsel for the Department of Transportation, said her agency is at the “very beginning” of its review of guidance documents.
“We want to be sure that all guidance documents that have been issued by the department or will be issued in the future are in compliance with statute, including the Administrative Procedure Act,” he said.
“We want to make sure we’re not creating new law through guidance documents.”
Owens claimed the Transportation Department generated $21.9 million in annualized cost savings in 2017 and repeatedly stressed that the agency is reducing the regulatory burden on the public without compromising the safety of the nation’s transportation system.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), however, expressed concern that Trump’s order will further delay an agency rule required by 2012 highway law mandating cars have a rear seat belt reminder system.
“Would it be possible for the department to finalize this rule given the regulatory budgeting requirements in Executive Order 13771?” she asked.
Owens said the Transportation Department is committed to completing all rulemakings mandated by Congress.
“In terms of the cost analysis for the two-for-one executive order, that’s a different matter. We are focused first and foremost on ensuring that we have our rulemakings done,” he said.
“We will of course endeavor to do so in the most cost beneficial manner possible.”
Lawrence then asked if the agencies are focused on reducing regulations or improving public safety.
Owens said the Transportation Department is committed to safety.
"We are committed to moving forward on all safety rules,” he said.
“But you have not fulfilled the requirement that I’m speaking of,” Lawrence said.
Owens said he couldn't speak to what occurred in the previous administration but that the agency is looking at every rule mandated by Congress and wants to move forward.
“We are conducting analysis to ensure we can do so in the best possible way,” he said.
“That’s not really an answer, Mr. Owens,” Lawrence replied.
Committee Republicans, meanwhile, praised Trump for pushing agencies to clean house.
“This kind of kick-in-the-pants change to our out-of-control regulatory footprint was badly needed,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).