Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Modest Proposal That We Desperately Need

Thirty-plus years ago the Texas legislature established something called the Sunset Advisory Commission. It's stated purpose:
"to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies ... The Commission questions the need for each agency, looks for potential duplication of other public services or programs, and considers new and innovative changes to improve each agency's operations and activities."
Like many government programs it has produced mixed results. It's a good idea beset by politics and flawed implementation. Still, overall it has done more good than harm, which is not something we can say about most other legislation (see: obamacare).

I've long desired to see a similar law put into effect at the national level. Now there's a chance that may come to pass.

Thomas Stemberg is the founder of Staples - the national office supply chain. Here's what he has to say on the matter in a recent WSJ article.
Nearly 30 years ago, I started a company called Staples Inc. that went on to do pretty well. Launching a business like Staples in 2013 would be a much harder proposition, with success by no means certain. There are so many government impediments to business today that the next Staples—and its 50,000 jobs—might never get off the ground.

Chief among those roadblocks: the blizzard of bureaucratic red tape that buries businesses and stifles job creation ... All told, American business faces 46,758 pages of rules to live by in the Federal Register.

This confounding web of federal regulations may be curtailed if Sens. Angus King (independent, Maine) and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) have anything to say about it. Their Regulatory Improvement Act of 2013 could be a game changer.

The legislation introduced in late July would create a bipartisan Regulatory Improvement Commission, charged with recommending cuts in the regulatory regime, and the law would require Congress to vote on the proposals. This is desperately needed. The government has few processes at its disposal through which it can re-evaluate the efficacy of outdated regulations—and many members of Congress lack the expertise, time and courage to effectively scale them back.
The King-Blunt proposal is modeled on the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). Like the Texas Sunset Commission, BRAC consists of an independent, bipartisan panel. It was created in the late 1980s and tasked with reducing the number of military bases. While not everyone agrees with everything BRAC recommends, the results have been significant.
Since 1988, there have been 121 major base closures, 79 major base realignments (which may close down part of a facility or transfer personnel away from it) and 1,000 minor closures and realignments under BRAC.

In short, the BRAC Commission gave politicians what they crave most: cover. Nobody back home could blame them for losing a military base. The King-Blunt proposal will give representatives the same cover with regulations.
The proposed bipartisan Regulatory Improvement Commission would be charged with identifying redundant, obsolete, and excessive regulations. We all can cite numerous examples of such job-killing and economy-strangling rules. Below are two such tales. The first one is, sadly and unbelievably, true. The second one is not (but no one would be surprised if it was).

Tales of the Red Tape #40: The USDA Rabbit Police
There’s no good way to deliver this disturbing bit of news except to come right out with it: Marty the Magician and others in the business of pulling a rabbit from a hat are under strict orders from the federal government to develop a “contingency plan” for handling their critters in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

Said plan will be evaluated once a year, when enforcers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) make their annual unannounced bunny home inspections. Oh, and all magicians are required to carry a copy of the contingency plan at all times and make it available for inspection while in “travel status."

With the July 29 compliance deadline looming, the USDA recently sent Marty the Magician (aka Marty Hahne of Springfield, Missouri) an eight-page communiqué detailing requirements for the plan, which must:
  • Identify common emergencies most likely to occur,
  • Outline specific tasks required to be carried out in response to each of the identified emergencies,
  • Identify a chain of command and who (by name or by position title) will be responsible for fulfilling these tasks, and
  • Address how response and recovery will be handled in terms of materials, resources, and training needs.
All of which means that Marty must prepare for all the calamities that could possibly befall Casey the Rabbit while making the rounds of more than 150 performance venues he visits each year, including schools, libraries, churches, and homes.
Alas, this isn’t Marty’s first encounter with the bunny patrol. By law, magicians must be licensed by the federal government to use rabbits in their acts, as specified in Title 9, Chapter I, Subchapter A, Parts 1-4 of the Animal Welfare Act.

Marty’s first home inspection didn’t go so well. He was written up because Casey’s travel cage lacked stickers indicating “live animal” and the arrows pointing upward (in the event he’s tempted to carry the cage upside down). When questioning the enforcement action, Marty was warned that verbal abuse of an inspector carries a fine of $1,000 per incident.
Yes, you read that right. The federal government actually has an agency (and agents!) that regulates and inspects bunny rabbits used in magic acts - and intimidates anyone who dares question them.

To make matters worse, they're armed.

Now for the fictional story (hard to tell them apart, isn't it.)

Noah and the Ark - Updated
In the year 2013, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in America and said: "Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me."

"Build another Ark and save two of every living thing along with a few good humans."

He gave Noah the blueprints, saying: "You have six months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights."

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no Ark."Noah!," He roared, "I’m about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?"

"Forgive me, Lord," begged Noah, "but things have changed."

"I needed a Building Permit."

"I’ve been arguing with the Boat Inspector about the need for a sprinkler system."

"My homeowners association claim that I’ve violated the Neighborhood by-laws by building the Ark in my back yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the local Planning Committee for a decision."

"Then the City Council and the Electricity Company demanded a shed load of money for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark’s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear none of it."

"Getting the wood was another problem. There’s a ban on cutting local trees in order to save the Greater Spotted Barn Owl."

"I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls – but no go!"

"When I started gathering the animals, PETA took me to court. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodations were too restrictive and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space."

"Then the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that I couldn’t build the Ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on Your proposed flood."

"I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I’m supposed to hire for my building crew."

"The Immigration Dept. Is checking the visa status of most of the people who want to work."

"The labor unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only union workers with ark-building experience."

"To make matters worse, the IRS seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species."

"So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this ark."

"Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine and a rainbow stretched across the sky."

Noah looked up in wonder and asked, "You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?"

"No," said the Lord. " The Government beat me to it."

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