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Senator Lankford: Federal Regulatory Enforcement and Fines Must Be Balanced

WASHINGTON, DC – The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, under the chairmanship of Senator James Lankford (R-OK), today held a hearing on the federal government’s use of discretion in setting and enforcing regulatory fines and penalties, as well as compliance assistance.

Federal agencies have the authority to fine businesses and municipalities when purported violations of regulations have occurred. Specifically, the hearing examined the process by which agencies set and enforce regulatory fines and penalties, the amount of discretion agencies have in assessing fines and penalties, and the efforts that agencies have to ensure consistency and transparency over regulatory enforcement decisions.

“As I have said before, the goal of federal regulations should be to promote health and safety, but regulatory enforcement must be balanced with common-sense policies and assistance for businesses,” said Lankford. “Most businesses believe regulators intend to fine them, rather than help them protect their workers. Serious violations should bring real consequences, but minor violations should only incur warnings that encourage compliance. The Obama administration must ensure greater consistency and transparency over regulatory enforcement decisions so that regulated businesses don’t experience the heavy hand of a government built to serve people.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Department of Labor, Susan Shinkman, and Director of the Office of Civil Enforcement at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jordan Barab, testified before the Subcommittee.

Congress has delegated varying degrees of enforcement flexibility to regulatory agencies to set penalties for regulatory violations. When properly used, this authority is a powerful tool for agencies to encourage compliance and achieve regulatory goals.  However, this authority is also susceptible to abuse if not properly administered. 

CLICK HERE to read the hearing opening statements and view the full hearing video. CLICK HERE to view video of Senator Lankford’s opening statement and questions and answer period.