In President Donald Trump’s Washington, regulation is the enemy and smaller government is the ultimate goal, but recent lapses involving baby sleepers and long-range jets underline the positive role regulators can play in everyday life.
Fisher-Price, the baby product and toy company, and Boeing, the aerospace giant, don’t have much in common except that people put their lives at the mercy of these manufacturers and the government is supposed to ensure they are safe.
But the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg, worked closely with the company to streamline the 737 Max 8 for approval and then was slow to ground the planes after two crashes.
Twice in recent months, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has not forced – or did so only after intense pressure – manufacturers of baby products that were involved in the deaths or injuries of infants to recall their products.
The commission issued an alert on the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper seat last week but did not force a recall despite 32 infant deaths linked to the product, according to Consumer Reports. The American Academy of Pediatrics responded, urging an immediate recall. On Friday, the commission and Fisher-Price announced they were recalling all models of the sleeper.
And in a settlement of its administrative complaint against the company, the commission let Britax, the manufacturer of the popular BOB Gear jogging stroller, issue an instructional video instead of a recall despite hundreds of incidents of the front wheel popping off and dozens of injuries to children and adults. The settlement did not include an admission by Britax, or a determination by the commission, that the strollers had a defect or are a substantial hazard, according to the commission.
It’s no stretch to link these regulatory decisions, since the mantra of the Trump administration has been less government, smaller government and deregulation of all kinds.
Trump didn’t directly have a hand in the FAA review of the 737 Max 8 or the Consumer Product Safety Commission review of strollers and sleepers, but he has set the tone for the government he runs.
In Texas on Wednesday, he signed executive orders easing energy regulation to give him sole authority over the permitting process for oil pipelines that cross borders and to give states less ability to slow projects over environmental concerns.
“Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special-interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump said outside Houston, making clear he’d make it easier for oil and gas companies to build pipelines.
The move drew immediate criticism.
“Especially at a time when the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect our environment and public health, states like New York are on the front lines protecting our clean water and the public health,” said Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Trump’s administration could apply new scrutiny to the regulatory power of independent agencies like the Federal Reserve, which regulates banks; the Federal Election Commission; the Consumer Product Safety Commission; the Securities and Exchange Commission; and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has seen a steep drop-off in enforcement actions against corporations, according to Public Citizen, a consumer rights group that found 35 such actions with fines of $5,000 or more in the first two years of the Trump administration compared with 64 in the final two years of the Obama administration.
State attorneys general have banded together to fight some of the rollbacks, including the President’s arbitrary goal of repealing two regulations for every new one and, most recently, his effort to roll back school nutrition standards.
There have been 71 multi-state lawsuits against the Trump administration, according to a tally by a Marquette political science professor. Many of them have to do with regulation or lack thereof.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was proceeding with a plan to give pork producers a larger role in inspection, rather than veterinarians, finalizing things shortly after the inspection service’s chief veterinarian, who had concerns, left the agency. The USDA strongly disputed the Post story in a statement, calling it false reporting on a critical public health issue.
These things are all related in that they underline how the government touches Americans – their food, their furniture, their transportation, their air – and that the mantra of the administration is the government is touching these things too much.
The Environmental Protection Agency, whose budget Trump proposed slashing by 31% for fiscal year 2020, has been particularly active, attempting to ease rules for coal plants, although courts have stood in the way of some of its proposed regulatory rollbacks. The Environmental Integrity Group, issued a report in February after analyzing years of federal data in which it concluded the EPA had conducted inspections for environmental violations in 2018 at less than half the level of the George W. Bush administration and had opened fewer criminal cases.
House Democrats said this week that they’ll use their new power in Congress to investigate whether EPA officials broke rules by pushing regulatory rollbacks that benefited their former clients, after reporting by Politico.
Trump has bragged about his effort to reduce regulations and has challenged government agencies to cut back. He had stacks of paper taller than his 6-foot-3-inch frame printed to represent regulation at a memorable December 2017 event where he used a giant pair of golden scissors to literally cut red tape.
He was bragging that his first year in office had yielded a huge reduction in regulations.
That’s not to say that all regulations are good or that the US has not had too many. Presidents from both parties have been critical of the number of federal regulations. But the level of anti-regulatory zeal in Trump’s administration is something not seen since the era of Ronald Reagan.
The Brookings Institution has a detailed tracker that follows proposed regulatory rollbacks that range from loosening some rules in meatpacking plants to killing new proposed rules for fracking operators to allowing new oil drilling off US shores to relaxing emission limits for new coal plants to repeatedly delaying a rule requiring railroad companies to implement a new safety system.
The shrinking of regulations goes well with the larger Trump effort to reduce the size of government entirely, made clear in a report that he could move to dissolve the Office of Personnel Management, which is essentially the federal government’s human resources agency.
Taken individually, these actions and efforts can get lost, but taken together, they create a new vision for government that the President and his administration are making real.
And possibly more dangerous for Americans.
Correction: This story has been updated to note the recall Friday of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper and to correct the number of deaths linked to the Rock 'n Play.