But the advocacy community was not the only group to seek other avenues beyond Congress to achieve policy priorities. The White House has chosen to enact much of its agenda through regulatory agencies. According to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, in the first three years of his administration, President Obama approved 37 major regulations compared to the 9 major regulations President Bush approved in a similar time frame. A major regulation is a rule that “may result in expenditures of more than $100 million.” The estimated costs of President Obama’s major regulations have far outweighed the cost of those approved by President Bush, $18.8 billion to $4.3 billion. Additionally, according to CNS news, in the last months of 2012, the Obama administration posted 6,125 regulations and notices, an average of 68 a day over a 90 day period.
With an ineffective Congress and increasingly robust regulatory presence, one may ask, what is the most effective way for business grassroots efforts to proceed? There are two key points to know before engaging agencies at the grassroots level: 1) Understand the environment and 2) Know the process.
Understand the Environment
Before engaging your grassroots team with regulatory agencies, it’s important to know the environment, such as what is the public’s perception, who are the key players, what is the political spin and how are all of these related to your issue. According to a Gallup poll late last year, 47% of Americans say government regulates business and industry too much, as opposed to only 26% who say there is not enough regulation. These numbers have held fairly steady since 2003, and over the past thirty years, the number of individuals saying there is not enough regulation has never surpassed a third of the population. Americans are clearly in favor of fewer regulations. Additionally, knowing the key players is essential. For example, who should your efforts be directed to at a specific agency – a secretary, deputy secretary, etc.? And what are the personalities and backgrounds of those individuals. For an overview of changes in President Obama’s cabinet see below. And finally, it’s extremely important to recognize that perception is always a political liability, even in the weeds of regulatory bodies. Politicians have and will continue to use selective metrics to describe their stance on regulations. Currently, regulation of business is perceived as more politically divisive than ever before. According to Pew, 76% of Republicans, 58% of Independents and 41% of Democrats say government regulation does more harm than good. The Republican and Democratic percentages are at the highest and lowest, respectively, they’ve ever been in history. Understanding the political angles of regulation will allow your grassroots efforts to be more informed and strategic.
Understand the Process
The regulatory process is intended to be participatory and public. Nearly all regulations allow for a period of public comments between proposal and finalization. Additionally, established regulations are rarely final. They are continuously tweaked and revisited allowing for multiple time-frames to engage your grassroots efforts on a specific issue. By law, Federal agencies must consult the public in rulemaking. Having public comments from employees and employers can truly have an impact on an agency’s rule writing because they are able to better assess the acceptance or resistance of a regulation at a local level. Comments are all recorded and confirmed by the Federal Register. The Federal Register is where all announcements of proposed and final regulations are published. In order to better understand the rulemaking and regulatory process a great resource is www.regulations.gov, and this fact sheet showing how public comments and engagement makes a difference.
The new 113th Congress is underway and has shown signs that it could be much more productive than its predecessor. However, by expanding the playing field to regulatory agencies when pushing your agenda, you can be more effective in your grassroots and advocacy efforts. By expanding the playing field, business can expand its influence in the policy process.