Federal regulators are keeping America from moving forward. According to recent news stories reviewed by my colleagues at the conservative nonprofit organization Engage America, federal red tape has squelched at least 736,203 potential jobs. If these positions were filled, today's unemployment rate would fall from 8.1 percent to 7.6.
While some of what regulators do is vital (such as preventing Americans from being poisoned by tap water or detonated by faulty automobile gas tanks) far more is costly, duplicative or downright destructive.
|A 1950's Gibson Les Paul white guitar is displayed earlier this month. Gibson Guitar Corp. was raided last August by a federal SWAT team that seized wood from India.
At worst, regulators who could call or visit citizens to help them obey the law instead order dynamic-entry raids — complete with gun-waving officers in flak jackets and steel helmets. Just ask Gibson Guitar Corp., whose manufacturing operations in Nashville and Memphis were raided last August by a federal SWAT team that seized wood from India.
Nonetheless, federal regulators deserve about an inch of slack.
When the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission and Occupational Safety & Health Administration staffers go to work, they regulate. If, instead, they cruised Facebook, bought novels on Amazon or enjoyed Internet pornography (as dozens of Securities and Exchange Commission employees were caught doing in a 2010 probe) they would neglect their taxpayer-funded duties.
So, these functionaries occupy their desks and concoct fresh ways to enforce the 169,301-page U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Thus, Salt Lake City's Davis High School got socked with a $15,000 fine. While campus administrators followed federal rules and disabled a cafeteria soft-drink vending machine during lunch, they forgot to unplug another soda machine in the bookstore.
Brigades of federal busybodies perpetrate such nonsense — all of which springs, at least loosely, from laws enacted by congresses and presidents of both parties, spanning decades. Non-Pentagon, executive-branch civilian employment shrank 11.5 percent under President Bill Clinton, from 1,274,000 to 1,127,000.
It then boomed 14.4 percent under Republican socialist George W. Bush. Between 2008 and 2010, Democratic socialist Barack Obama has expanded this headcount 5.5 percent — from 1,289,000 to 1,360,000.
While many of these federal employees do not regulate, per se, some 281,000 of them do, up 13 percent under Obama, estimates John Merline of Investors Business Daily. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Clyde Wayne Crews, these officials imposed 3,807 brand-new rules in 2011, or 15 every federal business day. These new regulations filled 81,247 mind-numbing pages in last year's Federal Register.
Citing a Small Business Administration study, Crews explains in his most recent annual snapshot of the federal regulatory state that complying with these often baffling, frequently self-contradictory edicts cost the U.S. economy $1.75 trillion in 2008. That amount likely is higher today, given this president's new regulatory death stars: Dodd-Frank and "ObamaCare." This sum outpaced all U.S. corporate pre-tax profits of $1.3 trillion in 2009.
And that's the point: Every dollar spent to mollify federal authorities is a dollar that cannot be spent to hire new employees, launch new products or open foreign markets.
Should Uncle Sam snooze while corporations do whatever they want? No.
A USDA rule called "Control of Listeria Monocytogenes in Ready-to-Eat Meat and Poultry Products" might make sense, since that food-borne ailment kills 500 Americans annually. (Still, private inspections — a la Underwriters Laboratories — and food irradiation might be superior solutions.)
It is far tougher, however, to justify new Energy Department rules titled "Conservation Standards for Wine Chillers and Miscellaneous Refrigeration Products" and "Efficiency Standards for Microwave Ovens (Standby and Off Mode)."
Doctors might smile if the Health and Human Services Department cancelled a new regulation called "Administrative Simplification: Adoption of Authoring Organizations for Operating Rules and Adoption of Operating Rules for Eligibility and Claims Status."
While the U.S. private sector has shriveled, Washington is a boomtown. America can survive without the Farm Credit Administration, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and an attic of other outdated or extraneous bureaucracies.
At least 25 percent of regulators should be thanked for their service and dismissed. Those who remain should be instructed to combat fraud, disease, serious injuries and untimely deaths. Beyond that, Uncle Sam should butt out of America's vending machines and wine chillers.
Deroy Murdock is a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock@gmail.com. Read more reports from Deroy Murdock — Click Here Now.