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With Congress' work finished, the federal bureaucrats begin theirs

WASHINGTON—Congress comes and goes, but new federal regulations just keep on coming.

Congress has gone home, but bureaucrats are still concocting new regulations to govern American life. The sprawling agenda is spelled out this week in illuminating detail.

The La Graciosa thistle will get new critical habitat in California's San Luis Obispo County. So will the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, in the mountains. Cabbage growers in North Carolina, California and Texas could get better crop insurance.

There's more, lots more. Rules revising a quarantine on Florida citrus. Rules applying California's strict aerosol paint standards nationwide. Rules on laxatives, on squid fishing, on charter buses.

Welcome to the administrative state, displayed Monday in all its rule-promulgating glory. Among politicians, it induces schizophrenia. They write the laws that require rules, then denounce the civil servants who do the work.

"The framers of the Constitution feared one thing above all else," Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe declared at the start of the 109th Congress, "and that was a tyrannical central government made up of unaccountable federal bureaucrats."

With the new 110th Congress, Inhofe will be surrendering the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Inhofe's rhetorical thrust will persist, though, regardless of who's in charge on Capitol Hill.

"I think the bureaucracy has always been a target," Scott Nishioki, chief of staff for Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said Monday.

Nishioki was speaking shortly after the latest Federal Register, the bureaucracy's Bible, hit the virtual streets. Published online daily, as well as in a decreasing number of hardcover copies, the Federal Register reveals what civil servants actually do.

Previously, for instance, the Federal Register informed the public when the Minnesota Historical Society was returning a 6-inch effigy to its Sioux owners last May. When wine-making regions were being considered in California's Livermore Valley and in the Rattlesnake Hills of Washington state's Yakima County, the information was served up by the Federal Register.

On Monday, every federal agency made public its semi-annual agenda. Spanning more than 880 printed pages—slightly shorter than Bill Clinton's massive memoir, "My Life"—the agendas are Uncle Sam's preview reel.

The agendas show that the conservative Bush administration has extended the government's regulatory reach. This year, the White House Office of Management and Budget has formally reviewed 557 federal rules. In 2000, under President Clinton, the White House agency formally reviewed 534 rules.

As a presidential candidate, Bush preferred to bash and not to empower bureaucrats.

"We're talking about a massive government, folks," Bush said in the first 2000 presidential debate, while he was denouncing Democrat Al Gore's proposals. "We're talking about adding to or increasing 200 programs, adding 20,000 new bureaucrats."

Now, one agency—the Interior Department—is listing 304 potential rules on its agenda spanning the fall of 2006 through the spring of 2007.

By next July, for instance, the Interior Department will map critical habitat for California's Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep population. It's considered crucial for survival of the sheep, which can wander to the crest of the Sierra Nevada.

"I've lived in this area for over 70 years," said Don Banta, a 78-year-old retired businessman from the town of Lee Vining, on the Sierra Nevada's East Side, "and it's an animal, I think, that we want to save and not to lose it."

Banta is a director of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation.

Some rules flesh out what Congress ordered. The Agriculture Department, for instance, lists 310 new regulations on the latest agenda. They include new emergency aid serving farmers hurt by Hurricane Katrina, which Congress ordered.

Other rules come as agencies look inward.

The Food and Drug Administration, for instance, has 87 pending regulations. They include figuring out the right size for laxative boxes. Package sizes are currently limited to 3 ounces because of deaths associated with sodium phosphate overdoses. Now, officials will reconsider whether to update this bottom line.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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