While We’re Looking the Other Way, Federal Protections are Being Stripped. It May Affect You

Some call them federal regulations. Others call them federal protections. It depends on where you sit.

While Trump’s incendiary, chaotic antics and the GOP healthcare battle dominate attention, the president’s appointees are busily getting rid of what they call federal regulations, a Trump campaign priority. Concerns about too many federal regulations always exist—their cost, limiting flexibility, confusion, and just philosophical opposition to constraints. But the other side of the coin is public protection. Being able to get on an airplane and know we’ll fly safely and that our water will be drinkable and our air breathable. These are federal protections. It’s difficult to get this balance right. Most recent U.S. presidents have tried.

With this administration though, keep in mind, Trump appointed Cabinet members and agency heads with no experience in their area of responsibility and/or people who actively opposed the agency’s mission. They are people who want to dismantle government. To help them toward this goal, the president also signed an Executive Order setting up regulatory reform task forces in each government agency. According to the New York Times, these teams have “deep industry ties and conflicts of interest.” “The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.”

As established, the task forces don’t require agency staff participants—and likely they are not wanted since they would be viewed as committed to existing rules. That can be an impediment to change, when it’s about rules for rules’ sake, but there’s more reason to be concerned about bias from industry representatives. These task forces are a new way into government, inviting foxes into the hen house. Under the Executive Order, these task force participants can be granted ethics waivers to allow them to work on subjects that relate to their previous business experience. They can also recuse themselves when potential conflicts occur. But will they? Trust in government and big business is in short supply these days.

And concern is heightened because these task forces are operating with varying degrees of secrecy. While some are soliciting public feedback, most are not disclosing participants or even who’s in charge. The New York Times found “In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.”

Given this new way for corporations and industry groups to influence government, and the lack of transparency, the NYT and ProPublica are asking people involved in or familiar with the task forces for help finding out who’s on the task forces and what they’re doing.

A lot is going on under the radar. Changes to issues you care about may be coming. Politico began a weekly roundup of changes, now in Week 6. Here are some that they know about.

You may have thought new oil and gas drilling in Alaska and on federal land was halted. It was. But not anymore. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the BLM to speed up the permitting process for oil and gas leases and hold quarterly lease sales. Offshore drilling in the Arctic is still prohibited, but the Interior Department is seeking public comment on a plan to open these waters to drilling beginning in 2019. As another example, 76 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico are being offered for oil and gas leasing, and with lowered royalty rates on shallow-water leases to encourage drilling. In this deal, the government even gets less revenue. These are just a few of the environmental changes underway.

Education is another target. If you were ripped-off by a fraudulent school, you may have thought the battle was won to get your loan debt forgiven. Not anymore. Implementation has been delayed indefinitely and the rule will be rewritten. There are other changes to education as well.

If you rejoiced at the decision to allow transgender troops to serve openly in the military, the Department of Defense has delayed lifting the ban that was to take effect July 1.

If your business plans included foreign-born entrepreneurs, you’re out of luck. The new start-up visa would allow these innovators to stay in the U.S. as long as they were creating jobs for Americans. But that plan, which was supposed to go into effect July 17, is a victim of Trump’s immigration policies. Implementation will be delayed until March 2018 and the rule will be repealed.

If you are employed, these changes might affect you. Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta wanted to delay the July 1 date when companies were to start reporting employee injuries and illnesses into an electronic database. The intent of this rule is to improve labor practices through transparency. Though the rule has taken effect, the DOL isn’t accepting data submissions—effectively nullifying the rule. Another DOL decision involves workers’ exposure to beryllium, a chemical that damages lungs. While exposure limits aren’t changing, the DOL is proposing scrapping the additional safety requirements for construction and shipyard companies.

If you thought you were now eligible for overtime when you haven’t been in the past, you might not be again. The Obama Administration raised the salary mark that entitles employees to overtime. However, while the DOL argued that it has the right to establish the salary threshold for overtime, it appears the agency doesn’t support the overtime rule and has requested a White House review.

If your retirement depends on your 401k doing well, know that financial advisors may no longer be required to act in your best interest. The “fiduciary standard,” which requires financial advisers selling investment products to act in the best interest of their clients, rather than their own, is open to public comment on delaying implementation. Originally, this protection was to take effect in June. Then Secretary Acosta moved that date to January 1, 2018. Now, that date may be passed by.

Many more changes than these are happening. Fortunately, most regulatory changes can’t go into effect immediately. Given their low-visibility and, in some cases, seeming secretiveness, it’s difficult to keep track, yet all the more important to be aware. The number and secrecy of the changes may result in crucial public protections being lost under the guise of eliminating rules and regulations. Some of them, may affect you.

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