Reinventing Regulations Pays Off BIG

Regulatory agencies are using common sense to reinvent the federal regulatory process. Trusting businesses to do the right thing is working.

A 1993 Presidential Executive Order on Regulatory Planning and Review laid the foundation for a regulatory system that meddles less and puts more responsibility in the hands of the people themselves.

The President and Vice President pulled out the stops in February 1995 when they summoned the heads of regulatory agencies to a press conference. We’re going to change the regulatory culture, the President announced. Rethink the entire regulatory process, he told the regulators. Review every reg you’ve got. Cut obsolete regulations. Reward results, not red tape. Negotiate, don’t dictate. Get out of Washington—create grass roots partnerships.

And while you’re cutting back on regs, the Vice President added, write what’s left in plain English. In a Presidential memo that followed, President Clinton said reform of the regulatory system is the“ central part of reinventing government.”

Regulatory Culture Is Changing

Are federal workers changing the regulatory culture? Many outside observers say yes. “In terms of affecting field operations,” says Harvard’s regulatory expert Malcolm Sparrow, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “is moving very fast. It’s going extraordinarily fast for any organization. For the federal government, it’s lightning speed.” (See story on page 6.)

Richard Zanetti, editor of Chemical Engineering magazine, a McGraw-Hill trade publication, says the Environmental Protection Agency’s first voluntary program worked. The program is a toxic emissions reduction program called 33/50. “I would guess that the taxpayer return on light years ahead of that from traditionally run environmental programs...33/50 may be the harbinger of a changing regulatory rationale.”(See box on page 5.)

“Companies cut more than 750 million pounds of pollution in the time it would take EPA to write a reg. It’s awesome,” said Chris Tirpak, 33/50 deputy. “We were stunned that companies signed up to make these reductions publicly. You take a risk in admitting that you are a big polluter. But companies even signed up for 90 percent reductions and some companies made it. All we did was set the national goals and identify the targets. The companies chose their own methods.”

Building on What Works

The 33/50 program was started in 1991, but the Clinton-Gore Administration did not ignore it, rename it, or get rid of it. Vice President Gore asked federal workers to reinvent government by building on success, not just harping on problems. When the 33/50 program closed in September 1996—after meeting its goals a year early—it had spawned 80 more voluntary programs at EPA. Collectively, these programs are called “Partners for the Environment” and “Regulatory Reinvention Initiatives.”

With partnerships, EPA has changed its emphasis from cleaning up pollution to preventing it. Since 1992, the agency more than tripled the number of members in its partnership programs. More than 7,100 companies now participate. EPA, OSHA, and other regulatory agencies did not give up their responsibility to enforce the rules and apply stiff penalties if it’s necessary. Because they no longer waste time on the “good guys,” they can do a better job going after the cheaters.

What Your Agency Can Do

The Food and Drug Administration, EPA, and OSHA started interagency meetings to share reinvention ideas. Joint meetings have been so successful that they invite other agencies to join. If you would like to join this growing group in the Washington, DC area, call FDA’s Marie Urban or Audrey Borja at (301) 827-0946.

Easy to Read Rules Are Easier to Follow

Part of good customer service means eliminating “bureaucratese” and writing regulations in plain English. NPR’s interagency Plain English team believes that if you write clearer regulations, users won’t have to waste time figuring out what the government means.

Led by Annetta Cheek at Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, the team opened a Plain English web page in December at NPR/plaineng.html. You’ll find a list of agency representatives, samples, and an interactive tutorial. You may reach Annetta Cheek at (202) 452-5099 or e-mail: NPR’s web site includes a page called “Common Sense Regulations” at

Here is a before and after sample from Interior’s Mineral Management Services. Reg writers in this agency won a Hammer Award for their plain English regulations.

Before After
Insufficient estimates also result in interest charges. These exceptions are generated when the actual royalties reported for a given sales month exceed the previously paid royalty estimates on file for that lease. In the “Dear Payor” letter, dated July 8, 1991, and the Federal Register, 57 FR 3435 (January 29,1992) MMS informed you of the procedures for calculating interest for insufficient estimates. If the enclosed invoice(s) include charges for insufficient esti- mates, a detailed insufficient esti- mated used to calculate these charges is also enclosed. How to pay your bill: To avoid penalties as well as further interest, you must pay this bill by its due date.

33/50 Program Achieves
Major Environmental Goal Without One Word of Government Regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary 33/50 partnership program challenged industry to voluntarily reduce 1.5 billion pounds of environmental releases of 17 high-volume toxic chemicals by 33 percent in two years and 50 percent in three years. More than 1,300 companies representing 5,000 facilities participated in the program. On June 26, 1996, Vice President Gore released the most recent (1994) data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (industrial chemicals that pose environmental and health concerns). It shows that the program reached its goals a year early. Free of government regulations, paperwork, penalties, punishments, and lawsuits, each company developed its own goals and plans and let EPA know of its commitment in a simple letter.

Exchanging Blue Ribbons for Red Tape

One of the participating companies—3M—nominated the 33/50 team for the Hammer Award, commending it for exchanging “blue ribbons for red tape.” It was the first time a company had nominated a government regulatory agency for the Vice President’s award. NPR Project Director Bob Stone presented the Hammer at 3M’s headquarters in St. Paul on June 18, 1996. He also presented a companion award to 3-M, representing more than 1,300 industry partners, for participating in the 35/50 program.

For More Information

Contact Chris Tirpak, EPA, at (202) 260-7538 or e-mail:

This article appeared in Reinvention Roundtable, Winter 1996-97, Vol 3, No. 2. For more information, contact Pat Wood, (202) 632-0223 or e-mail:
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