One of the surprises of my life is how much of my time has been spent on various regulatory systems. I fondly remember all my political science professors on such topics as constitutional law, state and local government, federalism, and even Marxism taught by the department commie (I told him to hold the Karl but pour on the Groucho). But I cannot remember any of them spending a day on the regulatory sciences. Once out in the world, I found regulatory agencies kept popping up in important ways. Early on, as a daily newspaper reporter in Idaho, I found myself running to keep up with F.G. (Bill) Barlow and his son Rusty, who took on the fledgling Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over warrantless searches. The electrical contractors from Pocatello fought OSHA all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. congress_406When energy became a story at a time when the politicians all wanted credit for cheap power (much as they now do for so-called green power), there were the intricate details of something called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to cover. But, as a journalist, I was only an observer of these attempts by government to “make it so.” Then came my time in economic development in the Seattle area. During a badly needed economic recovery before Seattle’s streets were paved with gold by Microsoft and Amazon and the like, we found we were being held up as soon as we got the local economy warmed up just a bit. The county’s development agency, known then as BALD (for Building and Land Development), was grinding to a halt with its output practically null, holding up business and jobs all over the map. And it was not for lack of staff. Like most land use and development agencies, BALD could staff up when the activity generated fees to pay for more staff. But, as fixing BALD became an economic development priority, it became apparent the 300-person agency was filled with talent, most of it new, and nobody was talking to anybody. Our public/private economic development task force came up with an “out-of-the-box” idea. One Saturday, the entire BALD staff was ordered to show up at a nearby high school gymnasium with their case files. Outside facilities then began going down project lists, finding out what the holdups were, and then being able to immediately jump a couple tables over to whose work was needed to move the project along. By the end of the day, a significant percentage of the backlog was cleared. On the following Monday morning, it literally was possible to say, “Gentlemen, start your engines.” In the public affairs business, I often worked for clients being impacted by regulatory agencies for the first time. I always told them how important it was to have honest two-way communication with the agency, and then, when it was clear what was demanded, to simply do it. There is n0 cheaper, easier or faster route for business that to comply early and enthusiastically. The only problem with government regulation is when the agency does not know what it wants and has withdrawn within itself, leaving everybody on the outside in a state of total bewilderment. The food industry, which, broadly speaking, supported passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) back in 2010, has, along with the rest of us, seen the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) build the new regulatory system brick by brick. Mike Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, has led the implementation with a deliberate but transparent and open approach. As a FSMA supporter, the food industry bought into the idea that the goal of America’s food safety system will be prevention. That has required Taylor and his ban of implementers to put their heads around some approaches not previously contemplated. Which brings us to the current moment. It’s no secret that FDA needs more money to fully implement FSMA as we all said we wanted. As Taylor worked to build the regulatory system, and with those pesky consumer groups going to federal courts to reduce the time available to get the job done, Congress went back to sleep. Only about half of the $580 million the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said was needed for FSMA implementation was appropriated for FDA food safety. For fiscal year 2016, FDA is asking for $109.5 million, up from $27.5 million, for food safety, and the agency is seeking $192 million in the future from new user fees. Tapping new support from the general fund — from taxpayers — is not easy. Everybody knows that. The food industry is talking out of both sides of its mouth. It always claims how food safety is its top concern, but year after year it prevents Congress from approving user fees to fund preventive food safety. It’s time for the food industry to step up and begin accepting that some significant percentage of regulatory system funding should be transferred from the taxpayer to the consumer. To do so makes it easier to make market-based adjustments so that a consistent amount of regulatory capacity exists. We assume that’s what the food industry wanted when it claimed to support FSMA. We are probably never going to see the day when user fees carry all the costs of the federal regulatory system, nor would we probably want that outcome. However, if FDA is going to train enough inspectors, sign enough state contracts, hand-hold smaller producers and manufactures, and verify the safety of thousands of food importers, they are going to need user fee revenues. So it’s time the food industry steps up, puts on its big boy pants, and supports a user fee system to make this work. Oh, it’s also time for the rest of us to call our representatives and senators to tell them not to short food safety. That’s something else I learned long ago. Effective regulatory systems require adequate funding. Anyone in the food business who does not understand that should get out now. This new regulatory system is designed for prevention and holds the promise of being a valuable asset for the U.S. food industry. But it’s time to step up the plate with the right mix of taxpayer and industry funding.