While speakers at a heavy-duty aftermarket event in Las Vegas were discussing how concern about government regulations has given business pause, President Obama yesterday signed an executive order aimed at tackling criticism that regulations are stifling business and the economy.

The executive order requires that regulations be written keeping in mind the need to promote economic growth and job creation. It orders a government-wide review of regulations to remove outdated ones that stifle job creation and make the economy less competitive.

The executive order begins:

"Our regulatory system must protect public health, welfare, safety, and our environment while promoting economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation. It must be based on the best available science. It must allow for public participation and an open exchange of ideas. It must promote predictability and reduce uncertainty. It must identify and use the best, most innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. It must take into account benefits and costs, both quantitative and qualitative. It must ensure that regulations are accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand. It must measure, and seek to improve, the actual results of regulatory requirements."

House Republicans had planned to make an extensive review of federal regulations their next major priority after an attempt to repeal Obama's healthcare law.

In the Wall Street Journal

In an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal,, President Obama wrote, that sometimes, government rules "have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business.... At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering."

"Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government," he wrote.

"As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends-giving careful consideration to benefits and costs. This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens."

"We are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb," he wrote. He gave as an example the artificial sweetener saccharin. Although the FDA considers it safe for people to eat, the EPA made companies treat saccharin like other dangerous chemicals. "Well, if it goes in your coffee, it is not hazardous waste," the President wrote. "The EPA wisely eliminated this rule last month."

At Aftermarket Week

During Heavy Duty Dialogue Monday, sponsored by the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, Donald Broughton with Avondale Partners said one of the "ghouls" to be concerned about was that "What Obama can no longer accomplish legislatively, he will try to accomplish through regulation, which can be even more difficult to undo."

Martin Regalia, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also mentioned regulations during his presentation during Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week Tuesday in Las Vegas.

"At least in Vegas they post the odds," he said. "Businesses in the past couple of years have had to play a game with varying odds. We didn't know what the regulatory or legislative or tax environment were going to bring. As a result many businesses decided not to play. Happily we are moving out of that time period. We had a tax bill passed recently that should help in that area, and we will be working with congress and we're hoping going forward we can achieve an environment where we only have to evaluate the odds, not the vagaries of the political process."

Obama also is scheduled next month to address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Just last week, chamber President Thomas Donohue said, "We cannot allow this nation to move from a government of the people to a government of the regulators."

You can read what Jack Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has to say about the executive order, as well as a memo on regulatory flexibility for small businesses, on the White House blog.

What About Hours of Service?

Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, sent a letter to President Obama concerning the executive order and its applicability to the administration's recently proposed hours-of-service rule changes.

"Timing is everything Mr. President, and the timing of your "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review" Executive Order could not have been better," stated Graves in his letter.

Graves' letter goes on to say that, "The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) changed the HOS rule for truck drivers in 2004. That change was welcomed by trucking because, using your words, Mr. President, it struck 'the right balance.'" According to DOT figures, from 2004 to 2008 (the latest year data is available) truck mileage increased by almost 10 billion miles. During this time the industry achieved historic lows in the three most significant highway safety-related measures: fatal, injury, and property damage crashes.

"Mr. President," said Graves, "FMCSA's Dec. 29, 2010, proposed changes to the HOS rule are, using your words, 'just plain dumb,' and 'not worth the cost' of making 'our economy less competitive.' The agency's own analysis shows the rule's costs outweigh the safety benefits. Further, the alleged health benefits are purely speculative and not based on hard data or science.

"Trucking is meeting its service and safety responsibilities Mr. President. We ask that your DOT meet its responsibility to address safety and health issues with science and legitimate benefit-cost analyses. FMCSA's Dec. 29, 2010 proposal fails on both accounts."

Updated 5:15 EST 1/19/2011 to add ATA's reaction.