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  • How Federal Paperwork and Red Tape Has Grown since President Clinton

    October 29, 2014 3:57 PM

    In recent five-part series called The 2014 Federal Paperwork and Red Tape Roundup, I took a look at hours of paperwork for various departments and agencies in fiscal year 2013.

    What I didn't do was look at how hours have changed over the past decade-plus of data collected under the Paperwork Reduction Act. The Office of Management and Budget assembles such information.

    The chart nearby depicts millions of hours of annual paperwork since 1997. In President Bill Clinton’s last year, 2000, there were an estimated 7.361 billion hours of paperwork burden (of course, fiscal year 2001 had been underway a few months by the time Clinton left office). 

    Since that time, paperwork burdens have grown 28 percent to 9.453 billion in the current 2014 Information Collection Budget (which depicts fiscal year 2013).

  • New Jersey's Driverless Car Bill: One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

    October 28, 2014 11:06 AM

    Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote reported S734, a bill that would recognize the legality of autonomous vehicle testing and operations in New Jersey. It appears to be largely based on a 2011 Nevada bill that later became law. While we should appreciate bill sponsor Sen. Tom Kean, Jr.’s intent to promote automated vehicle development in New Jersey, it contains a number of problems, as introduced.

    First, let’s examine the definitions contained in the bill:

    “Artificial intelligence” means the use of computers and related equipment to enable a machine to duplicate or mimic the behavior of human beings.

    “Autonomous mode” means the operation of the autonomous vehicle without the active control of a human being.

     “Autonomous vehicle” means a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors, global positioning system coordinates, or any other technology to carry out the mechanical operations of driving without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator.

    “Sensors” include, without limitation, cameras, lasers, and radar.

    These definitions are simultaneously too specific and too vague. To describe automated operation and automated vehicles, Kean could have used:

    “Automated operation” means computer direction of a vehicle’s steering, braking, and accelerating without real-time human input.

    “Automated vehicle” means a motor vehicle capable of automated operation.

    Those are the simple recommendations from University of South Carolina law professor Bryant Walker Smith, a leading expert on the public policy implications of self-driving cars. There is no compelling reason for the statute to define specifically which technologies may be used. Bloated definitions can conflict with definitions contained in other statutes, regulations, and private standards and leave other technologies subject to arbitrary categorization.

    Adopting a common terminology would be ideal; short of that, keeping definitions free from examples is the next best route. It is worth noting that Nevada in 2013 repealed the definitions of “artificial intelligence” and “sensors.” It also amended its definitions of “autonomous technology” and “autonomous vehicle” to be both simple and to exclude other forms of advanced driver assistance systems that should not fall under any definition of “autonomous.”

  • Minimum Wages Have Tradeoffs

    October 27, 2014 12:51 PM

    Minimum wages help some workers, which is why they are so popular. But they aren’t a free lunch. There are tradeoffs. They aren’t always easy to see, but they exist just the same. My colleague Iain Murray has a piece about those tradeoffs in the Washington Examiner, to which I contributed. As Iain summarizes:

    Breaking out of poverty is difficult for many people, and the evidence is that a minimum wage adds to the difficulty. Workers are fired, hours are cut, jobs are not created, non-wage perks, including insurance, free parking, free meals, and vacation days evaporate, annual bonuses shrink, prices rise, (squeezing minimum wage earners themselves), big businesses gain an artificial competitive advantage over their smaller competitors, and crime rates rise. It is a bleak litany.

    On the flip side, minimum wages do give some workers a raise. Are the tradeoffs that others have to endure worth it? Read the whole thing here (or here for a facsimile of the print edition, starting at p. 24).

  • CEI’s Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

    October 27, 2014 7:40 AM

    It was business as usual, with new rules hitting the books on everything from political speech restrictions to butterflies to football broadcasts.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 74 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register. There were 52 new final rules the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 16 minutes.
    • So far in 2014, 2,944 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,573 new regulations this year.
    • Last week, 1,251 new pages were added to the Federal Register.
    • Currently at 63,779 pages, the 2014 Federal Register is on pace for 77,402 pages. This would be the 6th-largest page count since the Federal Register began publication in 1936.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. 34 such rules have been published so far this year, none in the past week.
    • The total estimated compliance costs of 2014’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $7.62 billion to $10.87 billion. They also affect several billion dollars of government spending.
    • 242 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
    • So far in 2014, 552 new rules affect small businesses; 80 of them are classified as significant. 
  • The 2014 Federal Paperwork and Red Tape Roundup, Part 5: Executive Agency Regulatory Costs

    October 24, 2014 10:45 AM

    In Parts 1 through 4 of The 2014 Federal Paperwork and Red Tape Roundup we compiled a basic picture of federal paperwork costs with respect to independent agencies and federal tax collection, as well as took a look at taxation’s deadweight costs.

    Now we will briefly visit the executive departments, agencies and commissions to see what might be appraised about their paperwork.

    For the most part, executive agency paperwork costs will have already been captured, at least as far as officialdom is concerned, in regulatory impact analyses and in OMB reporting on these agencies, whether the legacy estimates or the more detailed annual tallies. These all appear, as covered many times, in the Office of Management and Budget’s annual Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations.

    During the first years of the 2000s, OMB noted about $5 billion annually as the average amount of regulatory costs imposed annually. That has changed recently; last year’s executive agency costs acknowledged by OMB were only $3.5 billion, but the year before that they were $25 billion. Since fiscal year 2009 the lowest amount otherwise has been $12 billion.    

    It may or may not be true that paperwork costs are contained within most OMB estimates; probably not, as we’ll seen, and given the plethora of non-major rules that nonetheless generate paperwork. But I avoid possible double counting even when it understates cost.  There are many other reasons regulatory costs are higher than what OMB reports on each year besides.

    What I will do here however, is specify an excess of official paperwork cost estimates (to which I apply a $35 hourly rate) when paperwork hours-times-wage registers as greater than the costs of regulations about which OMB has otherwise informed us for a particular executive department or agency.

  • The 2014 Federal Paperwork and Red Tape Roundup, Part 4: Independent Agency Paperwork Costs

    October 22, 2014 12:46 PM

    recent post here at OpenMarket noted the Annual Costs of Independent Agency Rulemakings and presented an annual cost placeholder of $6.14 billion annually stemming from compliance with rules issued since 2009. This vastly understates the overall impact of independent agencies given the number of agencies, the number of rules and simple lack of accountability.

    Independent agencies are not subject to even the minimal cost disclosure that a few executive/cabinet agencies present in the Office of Management and Budget’s Annual Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulation.  

    But we can supplement independent agencies costs with what we know of their paperwork burdens, as presented in the (sometimes) annual federal Information Collection Budget.

    These independent agency paperwork burdens do not get accounted for in OMB’s annual benefits and costs roundup of executive agency rules, and include bureaus like the Securities and Exchange Commission with its 234 million reported hours of paperwork (Table 1, p. 9), and the Federal Communications Commission’s 82 million (Table 1, p. 9). Some of these hours, like contracting regulations and Social Security amount to costs of doing business with the government and administration of economic benefits like Social Security payments.

  • Education Department Harassment Rules Metastasize through Administrative Fiat

    October 21, 2014 4:41 PM

    The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), where I used to work, today declared that schools can be liable for bullying (or anything else) that creates a “hostile educational environment” for a disabled student. Indeed, it says that for students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a school can be liable even if their “harassment” is not based on their disability at all, covering such “students with disabilities who are bullied on any basis” if it affects their education.

    This is regulatory overreaching on many different levels. First, school bullying is largely a matter for states, not the federal government (indeed, 49 states have laws specifically addressing school bullying).

    Second, OCR has no jurisdiction over one of the two laws it just interpreted (because that law, the IDEA, is administered by another agency known as OSERS). To get around that, OCR has read that statute into one it does have jurisdiction over (the Rehabilitation Act) by administrative fiat, essentially multiplying the number of the bureaucratic entities that can harass a school district over allegations of “harassment” against the disabled.  

    This is just the latest instance of federal lawlessness and overreaching under the Obama administration. It has also sought to restrict students’ free speech and due process rights on college campuses and in the public schools. The Obama administration sought to unconstitutionally meddle in hiring at religious schools. It has made schools less safe, and made it harder to discipline some bullies, by pressuring some public schools to adopt veiled racial quotas in discipline.

  • The Great Unknown - Federal Independent Agencies’ Regulatory Costs

    October 21, 2014 3:14 PM

    Let’s be independent together! —Herbie the Dentist Elf to Rudolph in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

    Independent agencies are not subject to Office of Management and Budget review as executive agency rules are, so their rules’ costs are not included in the annual Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations, confounding as that may be.

    So costs again are understated to this degree. OMB noted implications of this shortcoming in the 2011 report (not for the first nor last time):

    We emphasize that for the purposes of informing the public and obtaining a full accounting, it would be desirable to obtain better information on the benefits and costs of the rules issued by independent regulatory agencies. The absence of such information is a continued obstacle to transparency, and it might also have adverse effects on public policy.

    Technically, a portion of independent agency cost information is available in Regulatory Impact Analyses and the Governmental Accountability Office’s (GAO) database compiled per the Congressional Review Act. But once again it is highly incomplete. Of the independent agencies’ rules issued during FY 2013, for example, the GAO reported that seven agencies issued 18 rules, of which only two provided monetized cost estimates (OMB listed these rules in a table, but did not provide any of the numerical costs for readers).

    Referring to whatever cost estimates independent agencies may perform on their own, OMB stated that it “does not know whether the rigor of the analysis conducted by these agencies is similar to that of the analyses performed by agencies subject to OMB review” (taking rigor of executive agency reviews for granted, somehow, although these too are highly incomplete.)

    How OMB couldn’t know, even out of curiosity, whether comparable rigor exists after all these years is hard to fathom, but there you have it.

    Over the entire decade of 2004-2013 and according to OMB, the total number of major rules issued during this period by independent agencies was 128 (OMB, Table C-1, p. 88). Among them, the total number of independent agency major rules with “some information on benefits or costs” is 76 (italics added; Table C-2, pp. 89-90).

    So, the cumulative annual cost of these independent agency rules? Nobody really knows; it’s the same story as that of executive agency rules of the past decade, and as that of legacy regulatory costs.

  • Green Exploitation of the Monarch Butterfly

    October 20, 2014 9:52 AM

    Butterflies offer powerful imagery for environmental groups looking to advance their agendas. After all, who doesn’t want to save these beautiful creatures? Surely green activists could leverage those desires to advance voluntary efforts to create butterfly habitat. But the actions of some groups indicates that they would rather exploit the butterflies to gain policy victories in Washington, even if the butterflies suffer as a result.

    Conservationists rightly point out that monarch butterflies face challenges associated with habitat loss because there are not enough of the type of plants that they need for food and reproduction. In particular, these creatures feed and reproduce among milkweed, a flower that many people consider to be nothing more than an undesirable weed. As a result, farmers, homeowners, and other property owners have removed these plants, leaving less habitat for the butterflies. 

    Part of the solution is rather simple: educate people about the value of this plant. If we can transform what people think about it, we might just get more individuals to plant it rather than pull it up. 

    A massive educational campaign pushed by environmental groups, which collectively have tens of millions of dollars at their disposal, could make the critical difference. Some groups are working this angle, but too many others would rather spend the money to lobby for more government controls on businesses and property owners.

    The green lobby’s agenda includes suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prevent approval of a new herbicide formulation because they say it will enable more destruction of milkweeds. They are also calling for the listing of the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It may be counterintuitive, but both actions may actually undermine butterfly habitat and contribute to its demise.

  • CEI’s Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

    October 20, 2014 7:47 AM

    The federal government took Monday off for Columbus Day, but still managed to pack more than 50 new regulations into a short week.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 52 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register. There were 62 new final rules the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every three hours and 14 minutes.
    • So far in 2014, 2,870 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,570 new regulations this year. This would be the lowest total in decades; this will likely change as the year goes on.
    • Last week, 990 new pages were added to the Federal Register.
    • Currently at 62,528 pages, the 2014 Federal Register is on pace for 77,772 pages. This would be the 6th-largest page count since the Federal Register began publication in 1936.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. 34 such rules have been published so far this year, one in the past week.
    • The total estimated compliance costs of 2014’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $7.62 billion to $10.87 billion. They also affect several billion dollars of government spending.
    • 237 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
    • So far in 2014, 546 new rules affect small businesses; 80 of them are classified as significant. 

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