Red Tapeworm 2014: Tardy Bureaucrats Gone Wild

This is Part 2 of a series taking a walk through some sections of Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State (2014 Edition).

Disclosure of federal regulations’ burdens and costs, and accountability for excesses matter a lot. But not much of either exists, even in the largest government on earth.

Regulations with cost estimates have made up less than 0.5 percent of the annual rule flow of more than 3,500 over the past decade.

The 2013 final Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulation never appeared. It’s now May 2014 and the Draft 2014 edition is due (don’t hold your breath). The 2013 Information Collection Budget on paperwork hasn’t appeared yet either.

And, it’s also time for the Unified Agenda on Federal Regulations, the Spring and Fall editions of which have been consistently late for the past several years.

Alongside an absolute lack of urgency with respect to reporting and disclosure is the inadequacy of cost-benefit analysis itself, which, on the rare occasions it occurs, relies on agency self-policing and the feds’ own assessment of benefits of their own rules. Agencies auditing their own rules is tantamount to a student grading his or her own papers.

Regulators are disinclined to emphasize when rules’ benefits do not justify the costs involved. In fact, one could expect new and dubious categories of “benefits” to emerge to justify needless or cynical rulemaking.

We have that. Net neutrality, regulation of steam from E-cigarettes, green energy that wastes resources, damaging so-called energy efficiency standards, the suddenly greater “social cost of carbon”: the list goes on. President Obama’s pen and phone joined the mix recently.

Cost-benefit analysis at the agency level is already neglected, and cannot work anyway, so at minimum, some third-party review is needed along with public spankings.

Okay, I’m kidding about the spankings. A little.

Central review of agency regulatory doings exists in theory at the Office of Management and Budget, sometimes in practice. Central review is actually highly important. More about that another day.

Like federal spending, each agency’s stream of regulations and their costs require tracking and annual disclosure. Then, periodic housecleaning has to happen. Neither occurs.

Systematic over-delegation of rulemaking power to agencies is a primary source of excess regulation, as is Congress itself exercising powers never delegated to it by citizens. None of us, for example, ever had a right to get together and “vote” to impose Obamacare on our countrymen. Our alleged system of “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” went into the ditch long ago. All branches have too much power, and have the personal into public policy at every turn.

Still, requiring expedited congressional votes on economically significant or controversial agency rules before they become binding on the population would re-establish congressional accountability and help affirm a principle of “no regulation without representation.”

One could at least see who to “blame.” You probably know who your representative is, but now your bureaucrat.

At this point, more openness about regulatory facts and figures is critical, just as disclosure of program costs is critical in the federal spending budget despite it being out of control as well.

Federal “regulatory report cards” to boost transparency, similar to the presentation in Ten Thousand Commandments could be issued by Washington each year to consolidate information about the scope of the regulatory state for the public and policy makers.

But along with disclosure and accoutability, some kind of enforcement will be important too, against a bureaucracy gone wild.