Key On Better, Faster, Cheaper

Dr. John Bartlit
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water

Column of June 1, 2014, Los Alamos Monitor

Image “Innovation,” how sweet thy name!

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So said Shakespeare with the lilt of Juliet. 

Slowly, regulatory systems improved. Peer pressure had promising effects among small groups. As groups grew larger, tribal customs grew with them and evolved to be tendrils of religions.

Yet today’s political parties take no chances. To play safe, the name of “rose” goes ‘round in the news and comes out “thistle” or “skunk cabbage.” In the process, ideas die aborning.

Ideas about regulatory engineering have evolved here since my newspaper column, published in the Los Alamos Monitor in April, 2011. This spring I first heard about a different perspective—“next gen compliance,” which is short for Next Generation Compliance, a new effort of the EPA.

The first look finds countless similarities between regulatory engineering and next gen compliance. Their differences, aside from names, will appear as things progress.
Yet names are pivotal. Names guide sentiments, because names display their ethnicities, just as tribes do.

The word “compliance” is a term of regulation, which brings on bad thoughts of government rules. “Engineering” names the discipline of creating better, faster and cheaper technologies.

People growl at rules. Listing their flaws is a business for some folks. Meanwhile, a great many more people prosper in businesses keyed to filling markets with more efficient products.

The big political parties set their sights on scoring points, while companies, the economy, the environment, the nation and taxpayers would do better with more efficient regulatory tools.
Alas, any rising prospect bears marks of its associations.

The EPA says next gen compliance meets the need for improved compliance. A corporate lawyer replies, “Skunk cabbage! Who says we need better compliance?”

The spokesman wrote his criticisms last November in an article for the Association of Corporate Counsel. The tone was one of midnight gloom: “No evidence shows that improvement is needed.” A far different view is the engineering maxim, which says improvement everywhere is always needed and always possible.

The attorney pictured flaws, as follows:

(The EPA) begins with a problem statement: There’s widespread noncompliance....The flaw in this problem statement: There’s no data to support it. Where is this noncompliance, and how do we know that it is impeding the attainment of the goals of EPA’s existing regulations?

The paragraphs up to here speak the ills of regulation that fester in the political forum. Ready means to invent remedies flourish in the technical community. Yet, it sits idly by.

Aye, there’s the rub. The honored objective of innovation is to beat the competition to the marketplace with new tools and methods that are better, faster and cheaper than were seen last year. The spirit of invention is what moves inventors, buyers, sellers, the nation and...regulatory engineering.

How, specifically, can engineering make regulation work better, faster and cheaper?

Two routes are well known. The first sets out to invent faster and cheaper technologies that inspect and report if, say, emissions break protocols. Such new resources abound in other fields of enterprise. Yet few aim at regulating.

  The second route is to integrate all elements of regulation, namely (1) rule-making, (2) permitting, (3) inspection and reporting, and (4) compliance and enforcement.

“Integrate” means to think of the parts as a single system. After all, the four parts are paid from a single budget of tax money. Permits can be quicker. Rules and permits can be remade to promote data-gathering that is quick, thrifty and proper.

Continual invention is the golden key to success in any enterprise. And no less so in regulation.

Where can we find the high-tech skills to devise and demonstrate better, faster and cheaper regulatory tools and integrated systems? Their names are familiar—hightech companies, engineering schools, national laboratories....

Agents of ingenuity, to thine own self be true.