Portman, Tester Hearing Takes Hard Look at Regulatory Reform

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) today took a hard look at government regulations and their impact on the economy at a hearing in their Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce and federal programs.

Portman and Tester heard testimony from fellow Senator Angus King (I-Maine) and Howard Shelanski, who heads the government’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  The Obama Administration is currently conducting a “look-back” – or a review of the effects of government rules and ways to streamline, improve or eliminate irrelevant regulations.

“At a time when employers are struggling to create jobs, the federal government should not be imposing unnecessary costs and delays on the private sector though a burdensome regulatory and permitting process,” said Portman. “This is something I hear about from employers all across Ohio. We should be pursuing policies that make it easier, not harder, to hire workers and start getting people back to work.” 

“Too often, agencies issue or propose one-size-fits-all regulations that stack the deck against smaller producers or businesses,” said Tester.  “But let’s be clear, while some regulations have gone too far, others have kept our drinking water clean, ensured our food is more sanitary, and led to dramatic improvements in workplace health and safety.”

At the invitation of Portman, King testified at today’s hearing and announced that he would co-sponsor the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Portman and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) designed to streamline and improve the federal permitting process, which is currently laden with uncertainty and unpredictability.

“It doesn’t have to be done in a clunky, inefficient, expensive, redundant and overly burdensome way,” said King, referring to the federal permitting process. “What we’ve got to do is make sure the process makes sense…We shouldn’t rely on the fact that entrepreneurs are not only entrepreneurial, but are willing to take what are sometimes not very good risks on a regulatory process that isn’t predictable, isn’t timely, and is so incredibly expensive.”

In his opening remarks, Tester emphasized that regulations he believes are “one-size-fits-all,” like FDA rules that could prevent small farmers from selling their products at farmers markets, overreach beyond their intended effect – and he pressed Shelanski to explain how his agency will examine the rule-making process and incorporate feedback from the public and federal agencies.

“Look-back is very difficult, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find high-cost, low benefit rules that are just lying around on agency books,” Shelanski told the panel.  “We are trying to get agencies to get in the habit of identifying retrospective review plans, posting them, and telling us which ones they have accomplished.”

Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers who lead companies that operate in every sector of the U.S. economy, submitted the statement below to today’s hearing: 

“Senators Portman (R-OH) and McCaskill (D-MO) have introduced bipartisan legislation (S. 1397, Federal Permitting Improvement Act) that is modeled after MAP-21, the President’s Jobs Council recommendations, the President’s administrative initiatives and the Roundtable’s 2012 report. The bill would largely codify, expand and make permanent the permit streamlining efforts by the President.

“The Portman-McCaskill bill is designed to lead to: better agency coordination and deadline setting; improved transparency; and reduced litigation delays and uncertainty by reducing the opportunity for judicial review of permits associated with a covered project from six years to 150 days. It also would require a reviewing court, in considering a request for injunctive relief, to consider potential job or other economic losses from an injunction. Importantly, the legislation does not change the substantive standards or safeguards in any underlying law. It will improve and expedite the process for reaching a decision.    

“In short, the Portman-McCaskill bill will expand, codify and make permanent the permit streamlining efforts broadly acknowledged to be necessary. We believe this bill is an essential component of any comprehensive regulatory reform agenda.” 

Today’s hearing builds on Portman and Tester’s subcommittee record of examining government initiatives and efficiency.  The Senators last fall focused their efforts on getting federal, state and local agencies to do a better job sharing information about individuals seeking a security clearance.

The official name of Portman and Tester’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel is the Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce. 

Video from today’s hearing is available online here.