WASHINGTON – Seven former administrators of a White House office tasked with reducing red tape are endorsing a bill co-sponsored by Maine Sen. Susan Collins that is described by some as common sense regulatory reform and by others as a potential overreach of presidential authority.

The bill would allow presidents to require that independent agencies -- such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission -- conduct the same detailed cost-benefit analyses of new rules currently required of all other departments under the White House’s control.

Collins and her two Republican and Democratic co-sponsors insist the bill would not allow the White House to stop independent agencies from implementing the proposed rules but would provide additonal analysis and transparency.

On Sept. 13th, seven former administrators of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs -- the White House's red tape watchdog agency -- urged passage of the bill in a letter to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“As former OIRA Administrators from Democratic and Republican administrations, we hold varying views on regulatory reform,” the letter reads. “But we are unanimous in our view that independent agencies should be held to the same good-government standards as executive agencies, and [the bill] admirably advances that goal.”

Critics contend, however, that the bill could introduce politics into the rule-making process for independent agencies, potentially allowing the White House to delay or thwart much-needed changes at the request of the affected industries. And they suggest that big business and corporate lawyers already have considerable power, as evidenced by Wall Street’s success in delaying new rules intended to crack down on risky financial practices implicated in the recent economic meltdown.

For a more detailed discussion of the debate, see my earlier story here.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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