By Darren Smith, weekend contributor
It seems that the regulatory web that encompasses U.S. federal regulations has become so complex and gigantic that reforms require the use of artificial intelligence to tame the dragon.
Reuters reports that the White House Bureau of Administration and Budget announced last Friday that federal agencies would use artificial intelligence technology to "remove obsolete, obsolete and inconsistent requirements on tens of thousands of pages of government regulations."
The project follows the success achieved in 2019 with machine learning and natural language algorithms using Department of Social Affairs and Health software to identify hundreds of technical flaws and outdated requirements in agency policies
In a sense, we have reached a point where the regulatory morass is allowed to become so massive that ordinary human regulation is no longer able to contain or modernize the bureaucracy.
The United States Code of Federal Regulations contains approximately 185,000 pages of text and “is the codification of general and permanent rules and regulations (sometimes called administrative law) published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States . The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas that are subject to federal regulation. "(Wikipedia)
You could call it the DNA of the federal bureaucracy. In some ways, analyzing this DNA now seems to require complex software to fully understand. I remember an interview with a software developer who recently celebrated thirty-five years with Microsoft. He noticed the growth of the Windows operating system over the decades and that it had grown to such a size that no individual was able to fully understand how the entire system, that is, each of its underlying parts, worked. He said the last version that would allow such functionality was Windows NT 3.1 (released for manufacturing in 1993), and even then there were only four people on the kernel team who could claim such an understanding. However, in today's operating systems, the software is too big for a person to fully understand. The only practical and realistic expectation now is that individuals will fully understand, know and work effectively with others who have similar skills in neighboring systems. In the Windows department itself, however, there were problems in maintaining cohesion in the development of a common operating system with increasingly complex subsystems. Software tools can be very helpful in building or maintaining a complex system, but they are not a complete substitute for human networking and problem-solving skills.
It seems that the federal government's regulatory base is now one such challenge.
While I give the government the foresight to develop novel and useful tools to achieve a goal, we really need to review how we got to this point in the growth of regulation. And it raises many other questions, such as, "Is there an old cost of maintaining old rules that have become so complex and archaic that in some ways it is almost less difficult to leave them than to fix them? " or "How can we expect normal individuals or small businesses to comply when we need to use artificial intelligence to recodify the regulations from time to time?"
To get back to the software analogy, I need to look back at what happened in Washington State as agencies like the Department of Licensing increasingly faced the legacy costs of the 1980s and older vintage systems that are so old and out of date are that the state needs to bring them out to the outside consultants to fix it from time to time. The fact that maintaining the status quo of software is a little cheaper or less labor intensive means the can is thrown out on the street again and again for someone else to deal with this immovable legacy. Or maybe it's the daunting fear of having to take on what is perceived as a Herculean task to start over with a completely reorganized system that turns out to be daunting. However, the promise of a radically better methodology and scheme of such a system could lead to a far more efficient and effective program. Given the spectacular mistakes that have occurred from time to time when a state or agency redesigned one of its information systems, there may be an additional fear that must be overcome.
I wish you every success in using this technology to solve the problem. However, it will take a lot more than just relying entirely on software analyzing the CFR to get a lean, mean Lex machine with regulatory codes. But I suspect that in the end it will depend on a lot of people who have to do most of the work. Hopefully there is the will to do so.
By Darren Smith
Photos: Brazil (1985 film, directed by Terry Gilliam). A film that I can highly recommend.
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