The 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA) requires agencies to submit reports to Congress on their major rules — frequently defined as those costing $100 million or more. Owing to such reports, which are maintained in a database at the Government Accountability Office, one can more readily observe which of the thousands of final rules agencies issue each year are major and which agencies are producing the rules.
The CRA gives Congress a window of 60 legislative days in which to review a major rule and, if desired, pass a resolution of disapproval rejecting the rule. Despite the issuance of thousands of rules since the act’s passage, including many dozens of major ones, only one has been rejected: the Labor Department’s rule on workplace repetitive-motion injuries in early 2001.
There were 77 major rules in 2013 (the list may be seen here), 67 in 2012 and 80 in 2011. The 99 rules in 2010 had been the highest number since this tabulation began following passage of the CRA. The following, derived from the GAO database of major rules, depicts the number of final major rule reports issued by the GAO on agency rules through 2013:
BUSH (Avg: 63)
OBAMA (Avg: 81)
President George W. Bush averaged 63 major rules per year during his eight years in office; Obama’s five years so far have averaged 81. President Obama has talked about regulatory lookbacks and reducing regulation in his executive orders on the topic, but his major rulemakings average 29 percent higher than Bush.
The rise isn’t much of a surprise in the wake of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are becoming increasingly active in terms of major rules.
The federal departments and agencies responsible for the major rule load mirror the most active executive and independent agency rulemakers in general (see Ten Thousand Commandments).
There were 3,659 rules and regulations last year once we look beyond the few dozen majors. This is far from a record level, but what is interesting is the trend in the more costly rules. And, no one really accounts for the costs of the non-major ones.