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Ten Thousand Commandments

An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State

Ten Thousand Commandments is an annual report by CEI Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews on the growing compliance costs of federal regulations. The purpose of the report is to hold legislators and regulators accountable for the regulatory burdens they impose on American business owners, workers, and families.

About the report: The federal government primarily funds its programs in three ways. The first is to raise taxes to pay for new programs. The second is to borrow money to pay for them (with a promise to pay back that borrowed money, with interest, from taxes collected in the future).

The third way the government can accomplish its goals is to regulate. That is, rather than pay directly and book the expense of a new initiative, it can require that the private sector and lower-level governments pay. By regulating, the government can carry out desired programs but avoid using tax dollars to fund them. This process sometimes allows Congress to escape accountability and to blame agencies for costs. Since disclosure and accountability for regulation are limited, policymakers have little incentive to care about the extent of regulatory costs or where those costs stand in relation to ordinary government spending. Regulatory costs are unbudgeted and lack the formal presentation to the public and media to which ordinary federal spending is subject, and thus regulatory initiatives allow the government to direct private-sector resources to a significant degree without much public fuss. In that sense, regulation can be thought of as off-budget taxation.

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View the 2014 report:

Ten Thousand Commandments 2014: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State

Highlights of the 2014 Edition Include:

  • Combined with $3.454 trillion in federal spending, Washington’s share of the economy now reaches 31 percent.
  • Costs for Americans to comply with federal regulations reached $1.863 trillion in 2013. That is more than the GDPs of Canada or Australia.
  • This is the 21st edition of Ten Thousand Commandments. In that time, 87,282 final rules have been issued. That’s more than 3,500 per year or about nine per day.
  • The “Unconstitutionality Index” is the ratio of regulations issued by agencies compared to legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. The ratio stood at 51 for 2013. That means there were 72 new laws and 3,659 new rules – 51 rules for every law, or a new rule every 2 ½ hours.
  • Regulatory costs amount to an average of $14,974 per household – 23 percent of the average household income of $65,596 and 29 percent of the expenditure budget of $51,442. This exceeds every item in the household budget except housing – more than health care, food, transportation, entertainment, apparel, services, and savings. Some 63 departments, agencies and commissions have regulations in the pipeline.
  • The 2013 Federal Register contains 79,311 pages, the fourth highest ever. The top two all-time totals are 81,405 pages in 2010 and 81,247 in 2011, both under Obama.
  • The top six federal rulemaking agencies account for 49.3 percent of all federal rules. In 2013, these were the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services, and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Small businesses pay more in per-employee regulatory costs. Firms with fewer than 20 employees pay an average of $10,585 per employee, compared to $7,755 for those with 500 or more employees.

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