Attention regulators: Be on the lookout for the ALERT Act

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It has been almost a quarter-century since the federal government performed an assessment of the aggregate costs of regulation of regulatory intervention. Late last year, the Office of Management and Budget finally caught up and submitted its annual Report to Congress on regulatory costs and benefits – covering fiscal years 2020, 2021, and 2022. The fiscal year 2023 report is already late, and it is anyone’s guess when we’ll have that.

Ultimately, regulations amount to a hidden tax, and comprise the least disciplined part of the federal government. Even when done well, which is rare, the OMB reports are far from comprehensive in the disclosing true costs of the administrative state’s regulatory interventions.

In numerous ways, regulatory costs need to be above-board, similar to what exists with tax receipts and outlays. Arriving to fill these gaps in regulatory disclosure and transparency is the ALERT Act—ALERT standing for “All Economic Regulations Are Transparent.”

The bill from Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) would require monthly notifications from agencies on upcoming regulations. This would help eliminate the public getting caught by surprise by rules. The legislation would also require the disclosure of the anticipated cost of proposed regulations, forcing agencies to notate where regulations fit within the cost tiers of increasing economic significance (from $50 million annually up beyond the $10 billion level).

It would also require that agencies certify whether or not OMB reviewed a rule. Right now, OMB is the main regulatory watchdog, but has been greatly weakened by President Biden’s executive order called “Modernizing Regulatory Review,” in which “modernizing” is a term of art for “suppressing.” The ALERT Act would re-establish some of OMB’s teeth and restore some checks and balances over the regulatory state.

In addition, the ALERT Act has a provision that would force agencies to leave a rule on the shelf, unfinalized, for six months before it is deemed final. That affords time for the public to prepare, as well ensure a pause significant enough so that Congress has the time it needs to review. It reinforces the right Congress already has to issue “resolutions of disapproval” for agency rules per the Congressional Review Act.

The ALERT Act would help the public and legislators hold regulators accountable. In promoting government accountability, the bill gives Congress the tools it needs to go about establishing better regulatory transparency and reporting and disclosure. Policymakers would be able to use this legislation to reassert their authority over the administrative state – and it would help them pave the path to enacting further reforms.