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Sue Lani Madsen: From the government and here to help

Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Apollo Fuhriman loves his job. He’s from the government, and he’s helping. His job is finding regulations to eliminate. “We look at regulations, guidance documents, anything the federal government touches that we can streamline, cut, reduce or make easier, better and faster to use by small business,” he said.

A 2010 Small Business Administration study found the cost of complying with federal regulations in 2008 was 36 percent higher at small companies, averaging $10,585 per employee compared to $7,755 at large companies.

In 2011, then-President Obama wrote of federal regulations as “burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. … Today I am directing federal agencies to do more to account for – and reduce – the burdens regulations may place on small businesses.” But rules significantly impacting small business continued to grow as they had under previous administrations.

Then, in 2016, President Trump signed an executive order requiring every agency to find two regulations to cancel for each new one added. Last week, Fuhriman gave a progress report as a panelist at the Roanoke Conference in Ocean Shores, an annual gathering of Republican leaders and activists from around Washington. Across all agencies, the administration claims 22 regulatory actions have been cut or withdrawn for every new one added. It’s the basis for Trump’s claim in the State of the Union address to have “eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.

It’s a statement that’s hard to measure and impossible to compare historically. The Washington Post studied the number of regulations withdrawn during the first year in office of Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Using that metric, the Trump administration has eliminated 469 regulations to 181 for Bush and 156 for Obama. They left the claim unrated but stated: “Something is clearly happening on the regulatory front.”

Regulatory reform has been a goal of administrations going back to Jimmy Carter. Fuhriman’s official title is Region 10 advocate for the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, speaking up for the concerns of small businesses in Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Oregon. The office was established in 1976, after Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration into law.

The five-page National Environmental Policy Act has metastasized, along with bloated rulebooks at every other federal agency.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican – if you’re a small-business owner, the regulatory burden is the same. Fuhriman said the first question he asks an agency when he gets a complaint is: “Where in statute is this required?” If the answer is, “It’s just always been done that way,” he starts the long process of having the rule removed.

Federal agencies are required to follow a 10-year review cycle for outdated or overlapping regulations. Many haven’t taken it seriously, but “they all know this president is serious,” Furhiman said. Regulatory reform offices in every agency are scrambling to find and eliminate outdated regulations and procedures.

Last July, Fuhriman escorted SBA representatives from Washington, D.C., on a listening tour in Eastern Washington and Idaho. Business owners at roundtable discussions in Spokane, Boise and Coeur d’Alene emphasized how regulatory overload impacted decisions to expand and costs of operation. At Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, they were shown the thousands of pages of paperwork required to document a single timber sale. “It’s disheartening for big business as well, but it’s easier for them to break through,” Emily Vaagen Baker said.

It’s more than a federal issue. Drew Repp, business development and public policy manager for Greater Spokane Inc., recently attended a presentation by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries on Initiative 1433 compliance. He was impressed by the numbers of employers, from hairdressers to manufacturers, who had taken time away from their businesses to try to grasp this new bundle of red tape. “It’s a compounding effect. Individual regulations may not seem burdensome, but when you add them all up … the paperwork is just daunting.”

On the federal side, Fuhriman continues the search. If you have a suggestion for a federal rule to be reviewed, contact the Region 10 advocate at sba.gov/advocacy/regulatory-reform-input. He’s there to help.

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