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Let's Hear It for Bureaucrats


New York. -- You've heard the stories. Don't they make your blood boil?

At an aluminum extrusion plant in Seattle, inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found 21 of the 50 toilets installed 3 centimeters off center in violation of federal regulations designed to make them comfortable for people with large fannies. In 1993 the company was fined $100,000 and ordered to redesign its bathrooms at a cost of $1.4 million. In 1994 the company moved to Mexico with a loss of 1,300 local jobs.

National Park Service biologists in Florida tried in 1984 to ban commercial flights over 40 percent of the Everglades on the grounds that they disturbed mating habits of the endangered marsh stoat. The diversion would have delayed 10,000 flights a year and added an average of $18 to the cost of plane tickets to and from Miami. The proposal was dropped when biologists hired by the airlines proved that the stoats were a plentiful, crop-destroying Brazilian species artificially introduced into the Florida swamps in 1922 by incompetent researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Pest Eradication who were looking for a natural enemy of the deadly coral snake which bit 12 barefoot cane cutters between 1910 and 1921.

In 1989 armed agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrested a Dutchess County, N.Y., man for willfully destroying natural wetlands on his 86-acre state-of-the-art nanny goat farm which produces and freezes milk for 12,000 hyperallergenic human infants in five Northeastern states. Red-faced, they released him from jail after three days when his wife found papers to prove he'd merely filled in a hole left by removal of a septic tank in 1953.

Good stories, aren't they? That's because I just made them up. They're not true. There's no such thing as a marsh stoat, no goat dairy, no aluminum plant. Please don't write your senator. They never happened.

Ditto some other horror anecdotes being told in Congress to justify rollback of health, safety and environmental regulations. One of these congressional whoppers was that the government has ordered all 5-gallon buckets to be manufactured to leak so toddlers won't drown in them.

Here's a true story. Thousands of fleece garments have been sold which, if ignited, will turn you into a flaming wick. Fussbudgets at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered it and ordered a recall.

Another true story. Several years ago an insufferable busybody at the Food and Drug Administration refused, despite intense pressure, to approve a new tranquilizer although it had been tested and widely used in Europe. She saved uncounted American babies from being born deformed by Thalidomide.

Now, of course, the rabid deregulators will tell you the FDA is an evil nest of red tape. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has generous friends in the pharmaceutical industry, has called the FDA commissioner a "bully" and a "thug" and probably would have called him a bitch if he'd been a woman. Still, for the health and safety of my child, if it's between the self-correcting mechanisms of the glorious free market and some officious, meddlesome bureaucrat, give me a bureaucrat any time, the more officious the better.

Robert Reno is a columnist for Newsday.

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