In a Spring Cleaning, Agencies Find Rules to Scrap, Money to Save

In a Spring Cleaning, Agencies Find Rules to Scrap, Money to Save

By Matthew DoBias

Thursday, May 26, 2011 | 1:12 p.m.

The Department of Health and Human Services has targeted more than 50 regulations it wants to alter or scrap altogether as part of a broader effort to streamline and modernize the federal government.

The immediate impact of the agency’s housecleaning is unclear, but White House officials said Thursday it would lead to a major reduction in the amount of paperwork and time-intensive reporting requirements for doctors and hospitals.

“We know that it is crucial to explore the effects of regulations in the real world,” Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein said in a briefing at the American Enterprise Institute. “We need to know if they are having beneficial consequences or unintended harm.”

In January, President Obama asked the department heads of more than 30 agencies to review their existing rules and regulations to weed out any that might be obsolete, unnecessary, or otherwise overly burdensome. At the time, Obama said the effort would help businesses save money and operate more efficiently.

The intense scouring resulted in plans, presented last week, to eliminate hundreds of hours of meddlesome paperwork and saving hundreds of millions of dollars, Sunstein said.

The savings are expected to grow over the years as federal agencies begin to pare back some of their more misguided or dated regulations. For instance, the Department of Treasury has a regulation that deals specifically with Yugoslavia, a country that does not exist any more. And the Environmental Protection Agency will no longer define milk as an “oil,” helping circumvent costly rules designed to prevent oil spills.

Sunstein said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has eliminated 1.9 million annual hours of redundant reporting requirements, saving about $40 million.

Obama’s directive allowed for a sweeping look into the agencies that actually craft the regulations that guide everything from the air to the oceans.

HHS and its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are natural places to look for some of the more burdensome regulations. The health care sector is weighted down with scores of often well-intentioned rules that create more work than needed.

Federal health officials will canvass physicians and hospitals to help target some of those rules. Meanwhile, HHS has already begun its streamlining process. For starters, the agency will eliminate a requirement for medical staff at transplant hospitals to document a patient’s blood type repeatedly when it is already documented in the relevant databases.

Sunstein pledged that the rulemaking process would become more coordinated, open, and modern.

“This is not a one-time process,” Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew told reporters on a conference call. “This is the beginning of a way we’re going to be doing business.”

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