Next Administration Will Have to Try Harder on Regulatory Moratorium

In a speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club, Donald Trump proposed a moratorium on new federal regulations.

It’s lost to the mists, but upon entering office, President Obama’s chief of staff announced a regulatory freeze of pending George W. Bush rules as part of a first 100 days initiative. The march of rulemaking wasn’t appreciably reduced, of course, but then again no permanent reduction followed a more aggressive 90-day moratorium implemented 1992 by President George H. W. Bush either, who had directed agencies to look for rules to waive. I wrote about this at Forbes yesterday (“Here’s What Happened The Last Time We Tried Donald Trump’s Moratorium on Regulations”) and gave a bit of detail on what actually happen to rule output.

These prior efforts and other regulatory lookbacks generated just a few billions in savings. Moreover, many rules implement statutory requirements (not agency whim) and are therefore exempt from executive waiver, although recently with respect to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, waivers applied via bulletin, memo and press release by the Internal Revenue Service. 

With the Bush moratorium, or potentially the Trump one, agencies were and will be asked to describe what they did badly—a task at odds with self-interest and bureaucratic turf building. Furthermore, George H. W. Bush’s three-month campaign was considerably less time than needed to examine the fruits generated by an intense, thorough audit. He extended it, but more intensity was required.

Obama’s unilateral waivers notwithstanding, getting regulations off the books requires the same laborious public notice and comment procedures of a new rule. “Going back and reviewing stuff is as hard as drafting regulations,” said one Environmental Protection Agency representative during the Bush effort (“Bush Preparing Program for Agencies to Weed Out Federal Rules Periodically,” Wall Street Journal, September 4, 1992.).

Still, as I noted at Forbes yesterday, a new initiative, whether from Trump or otherwise, should build upon the best of the Bush and Obama moratoria, and lawfully freeze regulation for a lengthier, more thorough audit, publish reports on the data generated, seek public comment on which rules should go, and so forth. Generating some bureaucratic enthusiasm and creativity will produce useful information to support more substantive reforms—such as stipulating that for every new rule, one within or outside the agency should be eliminated. Doing the latter would amount to a status quo “regulatory budget” or freeze for the duration of the review.