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Retrospective Review: July 2015 Lookback Reports

by Howard Shelanski


To date, Federal agencies have completed over 179 retrospective initiatives which are expected to yield $22 billion in savings over the next five years.

In 2011, President Obama called on Federal agencies to undertake a government-wide review to identify regulations that had become outdated or that no longer justified their costs. To date, Federal agencies have completed over 179 retrospective initiatives which are expected to yield $22 billion in savings over the next five years.

The July 2015 agency reports identify not only rules to review and potentially revise, but also two dozen rules or regulatory provisions that agencies will remove wholesale from the books. The July reports also identify several initiatives—some new or ongoing, others recently completed—that continue the emphasis on several key areas of burden reduction we identified when agencies released their last biannual reports, in March 2015. Below are some of the highlights of the progress agencies are reporting.

Reducing regulatory and compliance burdens for State and local government

One of the key goals of the regulatory lookback process is to ensure an open dialogue with stakeholders in order to identify regulatory areas or specific rules that are overly burdensome, outdated or problematic.  Many of the new initiatives in the July reports emerged from this process of stakeholder engagement.  For example,

  • The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revise ineffective, yet costly, public notice requirements imposed on State and local authorities by some federal air permit regulations.  Existing rules have led State and local permitting authorities to spend $9 million per year on newspaper notices that are rarely read and yield little public response.  At the suggestion of ECOS, the EPA is considering regulatory revisions to allow local governments to post the public notices of permit actions on Government websites, saving the government critical resources and allowing the public to be better informed                                      

Another issue consistently raised by state and local government stakeholders is the burdensome nature of the Federal permitting process.  The July plans build on steps the Administration is already taking on permitting reform with the Department of Transportation and other agencies.  The regulatory lookback reports highlight some of these permitting reforms, which range from very small ones like a Department of Interior rule that eliminates the requirement of a Federal permit for falconers that have already obtained a state permit, to much larger, multi-agency initiatives. An example of the latter is the process the Army Corps of Engineers is leading, in coordination with the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security, to revise the permitting ‘Red Book’.  Once completed, this handbook revision will improve synchronization and reduce duplication for the various Federal reviews and approvals typically required for transportation and other infrastructure projects.

As part of their regulatory lookback efforts, agencies are also on the lookout for ways to simplify reporting procedures for State governments.  For example,

  • The Department of Agriculture has proposed to amend the Summer Food Service Program to reduce the paperwork burden on States by over 25,000 hours per year and bring the Summer Food Service Program requirements in line with the Child Nutrition programs. 

Reducing regulatory burden for industry, with a focus on flexibility for small and new businesses

Agencies have made it an ongoing priority to reduce undue burdens on small and new businesses. For example, this past February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule that will allow spouses of certain high-skilled workers to work in the United States while they wait to receive lawful permanent residence status (or a “green card”) through their employer. This rule change, which was recommended in a We the People” petition to the White House, will empower these spouses to put their own education and skills to work for the country that they and their families now call home. DHS estimates that in the first year alone as many as 180,000 spouses may be eligible to apply for employment authorization under this rule, with up to 55,000 eligible annually in the following years.  

Other examples of burden reduction for small and new businesses include:

  • The Department of Labor’s new initiative to reform its Permanent Labor Certification Program (PERM), modernizing the rule to address changes in the labor market and advances in technology.  
  • DHS’s elimination of the requirement that certain mariners obtain Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC). This small change would eliminate trips to TWIC enrollment centers for approximately 18,000 mariners every year, saving mariners substantial time and money.
  • The Small Business Administration’s plans to introduce a single electronic application for all loans in SBA’s 7(a) program (“SBA ONE”) in order to modernize and streamline its small business loan program. This change will increases access to lending for small business and reduce the paperwork burden by an estimated 50 hours per loan, which translates into a time savings for small business of approximately 750,000 hours over the next five years.
  • The Department of Commerce’s elimination of an unnecessary requirement for fishermen to file a weekly report when they did not, in fact, fish during that particular week, which will eliminate an estimated 78,000 reports annually.

Improving Government Service 

This past Monday, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced an online tool that will allow many Americans to apply for replacement social security cards electronically.  Currently, if a social security card is lost or stolen one has to physically go to a social security office or mail in an application. This new tool will save an estimated $78 million and 437,500 public burden reporting hours total over the next five years.

The Department of Justice also just completed an effort that allows persons with disabilities to complete Americans with Disability Act (ADA) complaint forms online and submit them electronically.  This small action will not only save an estimated 2,275 hours of burden but will also lower the barriers for the disabled community to assert their rights under the ADA.

Next Steps 

Agencies have made good progress in embedding retrospective review of regulation as an ongoing institutional priority, but more work remains to be done. Both through stakeholder engagement and through agencies’ own initiative, the Federal Government will continue to identify both specific rules and areas of regulation in which our regulatory system can be made more efficient and of increasing value to the American people.

As one example of our new retrospective review efforts going forward, today I join Anne Rung, the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and Dave Mader, the Controller of the Office of Management and Budget in an initiative to review government regulation of university research and reduce unnecessary burdens on universities in their management and compliance with Federal contracts, grants, and other awards. It has become clear that universities face many regulatory compliance burdens that shift resources away from core research and education missions. Removing any such burdens that are unnecessary puts money where it benefits society the most, and to that end I am pleased to announce our request for burden reduction suggestions through the ongoing National Dialogue at www.cao.gov.    

Howard Shelanski is the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Last Updated: 09/21/2018
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