Can the Regulatory Agencies Function Amid Such Odds?

Imagine a situation where the criminals are denouncing the police, who in turn either look the other way or simply beg the crooks to sign agreements not to violate the law in the future.

This spectacle is cops and robbers in reverse. And it’s happening in Washington, D.C., where the regulatory police are running for cover from the corporate criminals and defrauders.

The neglected laws are not trivial. They were enacted to protect millions of people from being cheated or exposed to avoidable casualties and diseases in the marketplace, workplace or environment. Every day evidence of serious violations comes to public attention, even though officialdom devotes few resources to track the corporate crime wave. Nevertheless, the crooks step up their pressure on law enforcement officials and bribe lawmakers with campaign contributions to dilute or repeal the laws.

The great pronouncer, Chief Justice Warren Burger, dedicates none of his speeches to this erosion of law and order. Neither does President Carter or his economic and legal advisers.

Maybe our leaders should look around their own government. At the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), understaffed civil servants face a blizzard of business abuses. There are payoffs and bribes admitted by hundreds of large corporations, and there are stock manipulations, deceptive practices and endemic looting of small investors and wrongdoing by top management. The SEC frequently lets off the few culprits it catches with a “don’t violate the law again” letter.

Still, the SEC is on the defensive. A mounting series of corporate diatribes shout that the SEC and its super-cautious chairman, Harold Williams, are harassing business. Chiming in with a cover story last month titled “Has the SEC Gone Too Far?” is Business Week, a publication that regularly reports corporate violations of SEC laws.

Over at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the foresight of the 1970 federal job safety law is being upheld by a vast outpouring of discovered diseases in the workplace. Millions of workers are exposed daily to harmful chemicals, gases or particulate matter.

Cancej on the job is becoming a news beat, focusing on such cancerous substances as asbestos, benzene, benzidine, betanaphthy lamine, vinyl chloride, arsenic, chromium and ionizing radiation. Yet business continues to make tiny OSHA its prime whipping boy, a drive abetted by some of the most callous legislators ever to ply their nefarious trade in the U.S. Congress.

The Federal Trade Commission, grappling with recurrent business frauds on consumers, reels from the blasts of the defrauders themselves and their congressional cohorts. Alarmed by a runaway corporate merger movement, the antitrust officials are meekly explaining to business audiences why America needs competition in small business instead of bringing the “big cases” to court.

With the leadership of Commissioner Donald Kennedy, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to defend people from hidden dangers in drugs and food additives. In response, the food and drug industries accuse the FDA of undermining consumer confidence in their products. Apparently they are preserving for their profit the freedom of consumers to be sick.

The Auto Safety Agency, barely stirring after an eight-year sleep under Nixon-Ford, is being set upon by auto executives for “overregulating.” This talk comes from an industry that has not had to comply with a new government safety standard of any major significance since 1969 and won’t until 1980 at the earliest.

The Goliaths of industry continue to get away with phony changes, slick slogans and corrupt dollars, for they have a hammerlock on the economy and they have the politicians by the pocket. Illustratively, the Business Roundtable–a major lobbying and campaign finance clearing house–has hired the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen to show the costs and ignore the benefits of regulation. The report is due next year and will cost $40 million. Shareholders, please note.

Against this background, citizens are entitled to ask why the federal regulators are not fighting back and speaking up. Why don’t they publicize more of the evidence in their files showing the abuses inflicted on workers and consumers by power-drunk giant corporations that are making a mockery out of the rule of law in a competitive enterprise system? Are not the regulators cowering too much before an indentured Congress?

Americans are sending letters complaining about corporations to the Washington agencies in record numbers. They are burning up the toll-free hot lines with their grievances┬░ (For a free directory of these hot lines, send a self-addressed, stamped, long envelope to P.O. Box 19404, Washington, D.C. 20036.) When will the agencies compile these pleas for help from their natural constituencies and send them as a personal message to Congress?

There’s no better investment in America than to make the laws on health, safety and honest competition work every day.

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