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MediaWatch: March 1996

Vol. Ten No. 3

Poor, Poor, OSHA

The Congress may have failed so far to pass a regulatory reform bill, but The Washington Post is warning of the consequences of "deregulation" nonetheless. In a four-part February 18-21 series titled "De Facto Deregulation," Post reporters didn't so much describe "deregulation" as they did the frustration of regulators and their political allies at their inability to implement additional rules.

In the first story, reporter Cindy Skrzycki did feature opinions from the "libertarian" Cato Institute and the "conservative" National Center for Public Policy Research, but leftist Ralph Nader was simply a "consumer activist." Despite their prominence in the series, liberal groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) were not described as liberal.

Stephen Barr's story on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) read like a bureaucrat's newsletter, beginning with the headline "Cuts Frustrate OSHA Plans to Improve Worker Safety." Barr mourned the agency's 15 percent budget reduction and trotted out the OSHA line that it has far too few inspectors to enforce its regulations in every business across the nation. Barr passed on OSHA complaints that it hasn't enough money for its office redesign plans and computer networking operations. Barr added that its employees "likely will lose part of their salaries through unpaid furlough days....The possibility of layoffs has flattened morale at OSHA and left many OSHA employees feeling anxious about their futures."

Barr didn't address the philosophical point of new congressional oversight -- that for decades, regulatory agencies had no check or balance in the legislative branch -- or the obvious counterpoint that OSHA's actions have often caused economic frustrations and anxieties to businesses.

In the last article of the series, reporter Gary Lee mourned the failure to implement new revisions from the 1990 Clean Air Act reauthorization. As David Hawkins of the NRDC complained in the series' last paragraph: "We'll never be able to get clean air in areas like [Baltimore or Houston] without stricter enforcement of the act." Apparently to the Post, "deregulation" doesn't mean the repeal of regulations, but merely slowing down the juggernaut of ever-increasing government interference.