New steps pursue vital remedies

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By John Bartlit

A good idea is a precious seed. Yet a good idea is useless without more good ideas for spreading it where it can grow.
Regulatory engineering is a good idea that showed up here in 2011. Six or eight subsequent columns added weight to the idea.
Today I report on how the concept is being taken to places that can use it.
“Regulatory engineering” – my term – is applying a familiar discipline to the regulatory field. Graduates in the speciality would engineer systems and tools that make regulating cheaper, faster and better. In a word, the aim is efficiency.
Engineers increase the efficiency of everything they work on, from mines to automobiles to computer systems, all of which are constantly improved.
The same commitment is needed in regulatory systems.
Better methods and new tools abound when the focus goes beyond “strict rules vs. lax rules.” That polemic is just one element among many parts in an overall system that was designed piecemeal, and shows the disconnects.
The public forum debates symptoms, but neglects the remedies used for such ills. Problems do not always originate where they surface. Indeed, a systems analysis often finds they do not.
Regulatory engineers are the means to efficient system designs.
The concept has found some good ground for ideas.
Last fall I spoke with the head of the New Mexico Environment Department, who recently moved to lead Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. His response was positive and led to some initial steps on his part.
Last winter I spoke with an official at Intel who is responsible for regulatory compliance. His response was positive and led to some steps within Intel.
This spring I spoke with the president of New Mexico Tech and two colleagues. Their responses led to a positive step or two.
The pioneer steps that came from each meeting have enough in common to show a path forward.
A logical place for change to start is with a research project or two at New Mexico Tech. A little history shows the setting.
The school was founded as the New Mexico School of Mines by the Territorial Legislature and opened in 1893. Today New Mexico Tech has about 2,000 students pursuing science, engineering and research. Studies in petroleum engineering grew during the 1930’s and in explosives after World War II.
Good research projects occur where sufficient mutual interests converge. Aspects to look for include:
• identified problems that make regulation inefficient
• feasible concepts for fixing the problems
• prospective commercial suppliers of better regulatory tools
• prospective commercial users of better regulatory systems and tools
• institutional interests in mitigating problems
• researchers with needed expertise and facilities
• funding
Efficient systems result from efficient parts in efficient processes. Regulating has four distinct steps – rule-making, permitting, inspecting and enforcement. No part can work well unless all the parts and the system work well.
Prior essays here have reported research in other fields that suggests new tools to make regulation cheaper, faster and better. Technologies from space programs can help on Earth.
Systems analysis itself is a tool that goes unused as a means of improving regulatory systems. Ask:
• How can rules be set to expedite permitting, inspection and enforcement?
• How do rules and permit requirements grow complicated by inefficient means of inspecting and enforcing them?
• How can the separate parts of today’s regulatory system be integrated better to improve overall system efficiency?
People who hear about regulatory engineering as a route to system efficiency tell me it is a good idea that is new to them.