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Do Republicans Have a Point About Over-Regulation Killing Business?

Yes and no. The “no” case seems to regularly be made through hyper-ventilated, over-the-top hyperbole which always fails to acknowledge that more often than not businesses actually benefit from regulations which Congress, state legislatures and municipal councils — out of necessity — authorize in their legislation for the practical reason that no legislative body can effectively implement and manage the daily details of an agency’s job to make laws work.

If business owners think it’s a burden to deal with government agency bureaucrats, just consider what it would be like to have to lobby legislative staffers to get their members to introduce and pass legislation to deal with a problem because the agencies were not authorized to issue rules otherwise needed to implement and carry out mostly broad statutory mandates and allow for interpretive flexibility of statutory language that is often opaque or couched in broad-brush language; that is why government agencies are always authorized to write rules and regulations.

Another benefit for businesses — never acknowledged by critics — is that many kinds of regulations on business conduct actually enhance the interests of business enterprises (at least those that try to operate honestly) by establishing a “level playing field” so as to ensure fairness among competitors, thus making success for all achievable.

Of course, government agency regulatory regimes can only be of benefit to both businesses and the public when those tasked with making them work effectively and with intelligence are at their desks and open-minded. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, especially at the state and local levels.

In fact, based on many, many years of studying how government works, I long ago came to the conclusion that where regulation most adversely affects business is not at the federal level but actually at the state and municipal level, especially the latter where too often local agencies are not able to recruit the best and the brightest for regulatory enforcement positions.

And, unhappily, we are compelled to shine a light on our own city bureaucracy.

For starters, we have been for some time asking both experienced long-time local business owners as well as new entrepreneurs about their interactions at various agencies where they go for licenses, permits, and for other kinds of dealings where approvals are needed, whether it be to open a restaurant, with or without a sidewalk patio or music inside or to rehab a building or to repair a front window — you get the point.

What we hear constantly as being the most aggravating and seemingly almost intentionally created roadblocks to getting going, whether for a new enterprise or existing one, is a sense that there is a real anti-business attitude, contrary to the Mayor constantly stating how important it is to retain existing business and to encourage new businesses and budding entrepreneurs — all, of course, a positive for increasing tax revenues.

An example of this, which we have heard from many leading us to conclude is pervasive, is the inability to efficiently conclude business with persons at some important licensing and permitting agencies — Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) being the worst. Despite having all necessary documents easily obtainable on-line, one is still required to personally appear at the overcrowded “customer service” (there is a reason for the quote marks, and it is not a good one!) areas only to discover that the one and only person who can initial some minor piece of paperwork which has to then be submitted in person elsewhere in the building to another person is nowhere to be seen. In fact, this not-at-the-desk syndrome is constant; applicants lose valuable hours just waiting for somebody who is nowhere to be found and nobody knows anything.

And it’s not just that the person one needs to interact with has evaporated and valuable time is either lost waiting for what can turn out to be a no-show, but more time (and money, since in business time is money, though it seems DCRA people don’t understand that) is wasted by having to make another trip into southwest DC the next day in hope of finding the key person.

But even worse are calls not being returned despite the standard voice mail greeting assuring return “in 24 hours or the next business day.” It is quite common across DC agencies for calls never being answered and not being returned. Even we, as a member of the press right now still have not received calls back from two different information officers at two agencies — calls made many weeks ago and more than one message left for each. So if a reporter can’t get a call returned from someone whose job it is to do so, how can a business person expect any better?

Mayor Bowser should fix these problems now.


Reader Comment

 Yes and no. Thanks for keeping the pressure on. But after similar experiences over the decades I’ve been here, I see few prospects for major improvements.

John Schuster
Washington, DC