Regulatory Lookback Eliminates Major Paperwork Burden

Truck drivers have a tough job, and one that is essential to the U.S. economy. They work for small businesses and large; many are small business owners in their own right. They put in long days on the road.  And at the beginning and end of every one of those days, they have to inspect their trucks and file a report—even if they don’t find any problems.  It’s a lot of paperwork—about 50 million hours per year, if you add up all the daily inspection reports filed by drivers across the country. 

But due to an initiative that President Obama launched in 2011 to eliminate unnecessary regulation, that’s about to change. Last week, the Department of Transportation announced a proposed rule that would ensure that drivers only have to file reports when they identify vehicle problems or have reason to think that problems might exist.  Drivers will still make inspections to ensure safety on the road, but they will no longer need to file reports when there’s nothing to report.  If finalized, this rule could save truckers, businesses, and American consumers $1.7 billion dollars annually in paperwork costs. 

As Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, it is my job to review Federal agency regulations before they are issued.  Regulations are critical to protecting our health, safety, and environment. But some regulations that were well crafted when first issued can become unnecessary over time as conditions change—and regulations that aren’t providing real benefits to society need to be streamlined, modified, or repealed.  No one should be filing paperwork just for the sake of filing paperwork. 

That is why President Obama, in January 2011, issued an Executive Order that called on agencies to streamline, modify, or repeal regulations on the books that impose unnecessary burdens or costs.  And he has since followed up with additional orders asking agencies to report regularly on their progress in reviewing existing rules, and asking independent agencies to perform a similar review of regulations on their books.

This regulatory retrospective review, or “lookback,” initiative is producing real results—and last week’s Department of Transportation announcement is only one example.  More than two dozen agencies have produced review plans, and almost twenty independent agencies have also done so, addressing hundreds of rules across the government.  

Just a small fraction of the retrospective review rules already finalized will save around ten billion dollars for the American public in the near term. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removed unnecessary regulatory and reporting requirements on hospitals and other healthcare providers, saving more than $5 billion over the next five years.  And the Department of Labor (DOL) simplified and improved hazard warnings for workers, producing net benefits of more than $2.5 billion over the next five years, while strengthening worker safety.  Notably, many of the agency review efforts focus especially on benefitting small businesses, which are crucial engines of growth in our economy. 

When the President launched this initiative in 2011, he stated that “We can make our economy stronger and more competitive, while meeting our fundamental responsibilities to one another.”  That statement is as true today as it was back then.  Review of existing regulations is a crucial part of ensuring that protecting our nation’s health, safety, and environment remains consistent with creating jobs and prosperity. This Administration will expand and further institutionalize our regulatory lookback efforts to ensure that we continue to identify rules that need to be modified, streamlined, or repealed.  And we will continue to carefully consider ideas and input from the public as we make these regulatory changes.  After all, no one should face unnecessary red tape.  It’s not good for truck drivers; it’s not good for the economy; and it’s not good for the American people.

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

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