Transparency is a vital part of good government. It is also lacking in the regulatory process. H.R. 262, The All Economic Regulations are Transparent Act of 2023, or the ALERT Act, is Rep. Bob Good’s (R-VA) attempt to add some transparency to an opaque part of government.
Most of what we know about regulatory costs comes from OIRA, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It is part of the Executive Office of the President’s Office of Management and Budget. OIRA does most of the cost-benefit analysis that select rules must go through before they are enacted. The ALERT Act would expand OIRA’s watchdog role in three ways.
One, agencies would be required to send OIRA a monthly report about all their upcoming regulations. This would report would include the legal basis for each rule, any deadlines, when it expects to finalize each rule, and any employment effects it will have.
These agency reports would also feature tiered cost breakdowns similar to what Wayne Crews proposes in his annual Ten Thousand Commandments report. Sec. 651 of the bill text requires agencies to disclose:
“(B) an estimate of whether the rule will cost—
“(i) less than $50,000,000;
“(ii) $50,000,000 or more but less than $100,000,000;
“(iii) $100,000,000 or more but less than $500,000,000;
“(iv) $500,000,000 or more but less than $1,000,000,000;
“(v) $1,000,000,000 or more but less than $5,000,000,000;
“(vi) $5,000,000,000 or more but less than $10,000,000,000; or
“(vii) $10,000,000,000 or more
This cost breakdown is a more precise version of an existing requirement. Currently, agencies must say if they believe a rule will be “economically significant,” which means an impact greater than $100 million in at least one year. It doesn’t require agencies to say whether a rule barely meets that threshold for a single year, or costs tens of billions of dollars per year, forever. The ALERT Act’s multi-tier cost reporting is much more informative.
Second, the ALERT Act requires OIRA to publicly release every month the data it collects. Again, some disclosure requirements already exist. But they are either unenforced, out of date, or not particularly informative.
The twice-yearly Unified Agenda, which lists each agency’s upcoming regulations, is nearly always published months late. One edition during the Obama administration was never published at all. OIRA’s legally required annual Report to Congress on costs and benefits hasn’t been published since 2020.
A monthly digest like the ALERT Act requires would give the public a more frequent and a more thorough look at agency activity. And if agencies or OIRA fall behind, their transparency lapses would be easier to see.
The ALERT Act’s third reform is a longer waiting period for new rules to take effect. There is currently usually either a 60- or 90-day public comment period after a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, after which a final rule may be published and come into effect. The ALERT Act requires all proposed regulations to be publicly available on the Internet for at least six months before they may take effect.
The rulemaking process we currently have already has some important transparency safeguards, such as public comment periods and annual reports. Clearly these are not enough. As legislating increases moves away from Congress and into executive branch agencies, transparency is more important than ever. The ALERT Act is one attempt to shine some light into some too-dark places.
This post is part of an occasional series looking at regulatory reform bills in Congress. Previous posts cover the REINS Act, the GOOD Act, the Less Is More Resolution, and the Article I Regulatory Budget Act.