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In November, 1981, the American Civil Liberties Union, warned “What we are witnessing is a systematic assault on the concept of government accountability and deterrence of illegal government conduct.” And for nearly five years now, the Reagan administration has been engaged in a successful campaign to exalt the power of the presidency and to under­mine the power of the law, the courts, the Congress, and the people.

On February 17, 1981, the President signed Executive Order 12291. The order sets up a framework for (presidential) management of the rule-making process, unprecedented in scope and substance. Under this order, the White House can nullify acts of Congress that the President considers too costly. A new mode of lawmaking has been established. Under this new system, the Congress, after years of study and deliberation to enact legislation and delegate authority to the appropriate agency, can have all its efforts overturned by a few dozen clerks in the White House budget office.

The Reagan Revolution calls for a return to autocratic government. The order threatens to make “cost-benefit principles,” imposed and manipulated by the White House, supreme over the statutory mission given by Congress to the executive agencies of the government, in violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.

By 1983 the Reagan Autocracy began affecting millions of people who live near nuclear power plants. Under the direction of the budget office, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency suspended some of their most important safety regulations because cost factors were not built into health regulations. Under White House control, the Department of Labor nullified the occupational safety laws by cutting down on inspections, reducing fines, weakening old rules, and delaying the enactment of needed new ones. A cost-benefit analysis persuaded the Department of Health and Human Services to change their rule-making process which affects the aged, the poor, the young, and the disabled. No longer will change be open to public comment … because of the costly “delay” caused by public participation.

A change adopted in 1984 to “Circular A-122 — Cost Principles for Nonprofit Organizations” and a Presidential executive order banned “any organization that seeks to influence … the determination of public policy” from participating in the federal government’s lucrative on-the-job charity drives.

On January 24, 1985, again without public notice, Executive Order 12498 gave the White House power not only to impose cost-benefit analysis but to review, control, approve, or suppress any agency activity “that may influence, anticipate, or could lead to the commencement of rule-making proceedings at a later date.”

Management by cost-benefit analysis might be effective in the private sector’, at the very least, it should have been put on the national agenda before being instituted in the public sector.


HARPER’S, November, 1985, “Liberty Under Siege,” by Walter Harp, pp 53-67.