Remarks - Dr. John H. Gibbons
Remarks Prepared for
Dr. John H. Gibbons
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Executive Office of the President

before the
Committee on Science
U.S. House of Representatives

February 3, 1995

Good morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. I am pleased to be here today to discuss with you H.R. 9, The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act -- specifically Title III on "Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis for New Regulations."

Title III's stated goal is to bring greater scientific and economic rationality to the regulation of risks to our health, safety, and environment. The Administration actively supports these goals. Recognizing that, while our regulatory system clearly needs an overhaul, it still includes important statutes. The Administration is working hard to reform government programs to make them work better and cost less, and we are working to streamline government to focus on results, rather than one-size-fits-all dictates from Washington. That means establishing a regulatory system that is fair, effective, and affordable.

To this end, the Administration led the way on risk assessment by issuing in September 1993 Executive Order 12866 on Regulatory Planning and Review, requiring Federal agencies use risk assessment to help set and amend regulatory priorities. Agencies were instructed to propose or adopt regulations only after determining that their benefits justify their costs, and to ensure that any regulatory decisions be based on the best reasonably obtained scientific, technical, economic, and other data.

In taking these actions, President Clinton recognized that while there is an important role for regulation in safeguarding the health, safety, and environment of the American people, the government also has a basic responsibility to govern wisely and carefully, regulating only when necessary, only in the most cost-effective manner, and on the basis of sound evidence and analysis.

In the light of our work over the last two years on risk assessment, we have reviewed Title III of H.R. 9 carefully, in the hope of being able to move forward on this important issue. Unfortunately, I regret to say that it is the strong view of the Administration that this legislation -- as it is currently drafted -- would be neither fair, effective, nor affordable for the American people.

First, it is too prescriptive and too bureaucratic. H.R. 9 mandates a complicated and inflexible cookbook of "command-and-control" procedures for risk and cost-benefit analysis that must be followed by Federal agencies. Each of these procedures offers the basis for subsequent legal challenges and lawsuits. Specifying detailed procedures for risk assessments -- a rapidly evolving field -- could "freeze science" and frustrate the adoption of better risk assessment procedures as they are developed.

Second, it is applied too broadly and inappropriately. H.R. 9 takes procedures designed for one narrowly focused set of scientific health and safety issues -- cancer risk assessment, largely -- and applies them to a wide range of actions by the Federal government. As a result, detailed risk assessments would be inappropriately required of such areas as international trade exports and imports, timber sales, and patent procedures, to name just a few.

Third, it is too costly. H.R. 9 would create such consuming delays for many activities that the cost of the risk assessment review could frequently exceed the benefit added. As a result, timely responses would be inhibited in cases such as investigations of food contamination, control of agricultural pest infestations, and approval of perishable food products.

Fourth, it provides no support for science. Risk assessments are only as good as the scientific data that they are built on (garbage in equals garbage out). For risk analysis to be effective as a tool of decision-making, the fundamental scientific data and analysis must be developed in many areas where it is now lacking.

I trust this Committee understands the paucity of reliable technical data needed to undertake comprehensive risk assessment, particularly if the Congress seeks cuts in resources at the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and elsewhere that risk research is being conducted. The President's FY96 budget will contain strong support for research programs in support of this research, and I hope to see this support reflected in your authorizations.

In many cases, the effect of the requirements of Title III, whether taken alone or in conjunction with other elements of H.R. 9, would not be to bring sound science and good analysis to bear on regulation, but to load the regulatory system so much that it cannot move forward. Ironically, by creating a legal maze only a bureaucrat could love, it would also make it more difficult for citizens to be heard in the regulatory process. Rather than cutting bureaucracy, it would expand it; rather than cutting costs to taxpayers and industry, it would increase them; rather than streamlining government functions, it would make them more complicated and provide more opportunities for litigation. As it is currently written, H.R. 9 would provide "Job Creation and Wage Enhancement" -- but only for lawyers, lobbyists, and bureaucrats.

Mr. Chairman, the well-being of every American depends on using the best science available to determine health and safety risks from our food, our water, our environment. On that we can all agree. But we can also all agree that no cold mathematical equation, and no rigid regulatory process can take the place of reason or leadership in making those determinations.

As it is currently written, H.R. 9 does exactly that. In its current form, H.R. 9 is an extreme proposal that would make it more difficult to protect public health, safety, and the environment. It would place the safety of all Americans in the hands of recipe-following number-crunchers whose idea of public health is the bottom line on a ledger sheet -- the very antithesis of what we should be seeking.

Haste makes waste, and my reading of this bill is that it was prepared in haste and without sufficient understanding of the processes of science and analysis. Given the extremely rapid schedule with which the Committee is working, we understand your desire to move quickly -- but not so quickly as to compound the flaws and negate the good in the current system. Distinguished Members, let us reason together and act thoughtfully and knowledgeably.

I hope that you will not find my words today intemperate, or feel that our analysis of the current bill belies our strong commitment to working with you on this issue. The Administration shares the goal of better decision making across the federal government, but we want to see those decisions informed not by inflexible equations and analyses aided and abetted by eager litigants. Americans can and should expect better from their government.

I believe that, by working together, we can craft legislation to accomplish these goals. We stand ready to work with you: This Administration is ready to enact risk legislation that is fair, effective, and affordable.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Chairman. I have submitted to the Committee a lengthy statement on this Title of H.R. 9, which will be accompanied by statements and detailed technical comments from a broad number of Federal agencies.

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