Red Tapeworm 2014: Federal Regulatory Agenda Consistently Tops 3,000 Rules

This is Part 19 of a series taking a walk through some sections of Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State (2014 Edition)

In the recently released Spring 2014 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulations, published twice a year by the Office of Management and Budget, federal departments and agencies reported 3,348 rules in the pipeline.

These were composed of 2,389 Active (proposed and final) rules: 518 Completed ones and 441 Long-term rules.

At year-end 2013, the situation was similar. The Fall Agenda found federal agencies, departments, and commissions recognizing 3,305 regulations overall. As is true every year, many of these rules have been in the pipeline for quite some time.

President Obama declared during his 2012 State of the Union address that he had issued fewer rules in his first three years than his predecessor had. This was technically true with respect to total rules finalized per the Federal Register up to that point (but Obama’s proposed rules are mounting).  

The president’s claim also held together somewhat with respect to the overall number of rules in the Unified Agenda pipeline at that time, as can be seen nearby But note that Obama referred to first terms: while Obama issued fewer rules than Bush did in his first term, Obama’s first term (2009-12) brought more rules than Bush issued in his second term (2005-08).

Let’s step back a bit. The all time high count for rules in the Agenda was 5,119, twenty years ago in 1994. Bill Clinton was president.

More recently, as the chart nearby shows, the (acknowledged) flow has since obviously delined. Still, the Agenda has remained above 4,000 over the past decade, apart from the years 2007 and 2013, when the count dipped to 3,882 and 3,305 respectively. (For a history of the numbers of rules in the Spring and Fall Unified Agenda editions since 1983, see Historical Tables, Part E here.)

The drop from from 4,062 rules in 2012 to 3,305 was a big one, 18.6 percent.  

But the large overall 2013 decline doesn’t necessarily translate into less actual regulation underway. In the wake of the Sunstein and Shelanski memos discussed before in “Red Tapeworm,” one can see Obama discloses far fewer regulations in the Long-term category compared to the prior administration. Announced “long-term” rules shown in the chart nearby declined from 807 to 442 between 2010 and 2011, then rose again to 503 in 2012, before dropping to 462 in 2013. 

Meanwhile, note that rules in the Completed category had been rising steadily and rapidly under Obama—from 669 in 2009 to 1172 in 2012, a 75.2 percent increase—but dropped precipitously to 462 in 2013. This appears to reflect the administration’s rule delays noted before. (Completed rules are “actions or reviews the agency has completed or withdrawn since publishing its last agenda.”)

The “Active” rules subcategory stands at 2,397 in 2013, just slightly above 2012’s 2,387. Note a comparison here: Where the Federal Register consistently shows at least 3,500 final rules issued, the chart shows that since 2003, “Active” pipeline rule counts have had no trouble staying above 2,300.

Despite the drop in Obama’s Completed rules in 2013, the average of his last four years (which is 841) exceeds any other grouping during the time period depicted in the chart. For example, Bush’s last four years yielded 713 rules in the Agenda’s Completed category, compared to Obama’s 841.

The 60.6 percent drop in Completed rules between 2012 and 2013 does not entirely square with the consistently above-3,500 rules in the Federal Register. Nor does a reduction in Completed rules align with the higher level of costs presented by the administration in the Report to Congress on the Costs and Benefits of Federal Regulation; the range of reported costs of between $14.8 billion and $19.5 billion is higher than any reported costs since 2003. Finally the idea that regulatory burdens are declining does not conform to the administration’s now years-old, oft-repeated proclamation that it is not going to “sit around and wait for congressional action.”

Rather, circumstances appear to reflect a decline likely explained by pullback in disclosure and transparency, by charges that the Administration delayed the pace of rules in 2012 for political reasons, and by “undocumented regulation” that doesn’t get disclosure in the Agenda.

The total pipeline count of 3,305 rules shown here is broken out by stages in Table 4 of Ten Thousand Commandments by issuing department, agency, or commission. Note, tellingly, that there are no Long-term rules whatsoever listed in the Regulatory Plan component of the Unified Agenda. 

Later we’ll look at component Agenda rules regarded by the federal government as “economically significant.”

Red Tapeworm 2014 Series:

  • Part 1: Guess Which Is the Largest Government on Earth?
  • Part 2: Tardy Bureaucrats Gone Wild
  • Part 3: Reckoning the Dollar Cost of Federal Regulation
  • Part 4: Regulations Catching Up to Government Spending?
  • Part 5: Regulations Cost More than Federal Income Taxes
  • Part 6: The Federal Government “Eats” 31 Percent Of The U.S. Economy
  • Part 7: U.S. Regulation Compared to the World’s Largest Economies
  • Part 8: The High Cost of Overcriminalization 
  • Part 9: Thousands of Federal Register Pages
  • Part 10: A Record Number of Federal Register Final Rule Pages
  • Part 11: Federal Register Pages Per Decade
  • Part 12:  Number of Proposed and Final Rules In the Federal Register
  • Part 13: Cumulative Final Rules in the Federal Register
  • Part 14: The Expanding Code of Federal Regulations
  • Part 15: A Fourth of July Reflection on Presidential Executive Orders and Loss of Liberty
  • Part 16:  Over 24,000 Pen and Phone “Public Notices” Annually
  • Part 17: When Regulations Get Delayed
  • Part 18: Federal Regulatory Disclosure Becomes More Confused