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Reversing what Clinton has done: How easy?

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Just two days after Bill Clinton was sworn in as president, he began signing new executive orders, overturning a host of decisions made by his Republican predecessors.

Now, the Bush camp says it, too, is poised to brandish its pen. It is ready to undo eight years of Democratic rules, regulations, and other executive actions that, taken together, have had some of the most practical impacts on the everyday lives of Americans.

"Our policy staff is vigilant and is on the case," Ari Fleischer, spokesman for President-elect George W. Bush, said recently.

Yet reversing what President Clinton has done will not be easy. While it takes only a stroke of the presidential pen to negate a previous chief's executive order, it's quite another matter to roll back rules at federal agencies - an area where the Clinton administration has been especially active lately.

New rules and regulations

Last week, for instance, the president announced new rules banning roads and commercial logging on nearly one-third of federally owned land - including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Taking Mr. Clinton's move a step further, US Forest Service director Mike Dombeck this week issued a new policy barring the cutting of old-growth trees on public lands. Mr. Dombeck admitted, however, that the policy would be subject to review by the incoming administration.

In recent months, the Clinton administration has also established new rules on workplace ergonomics, organic food, diesel fuel, medical privacy, and federal contracting.

"What's really been coming out in the last months now are substantive, underlying rules and policy changes at the federal level, which are much more difficult to reverse," says Boyden Gray, who undertook regulatory review for Presidents Reagan and Bush.

Months, and even years, went into the creation of some of these Clinton regulations. The agencies had to publish proposed rules in the federal registry, take public comment, and come back with final changes. A new administration would have to go through exactly the same, time-consuming process to change these rules.

Of course, another way to get rid of regulations is to fight them in court - and the business community is doing just that, with complaints against the new standards for ergonomics and federal contracting.


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