Takeaways from Biden’s new Spring 2024 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulations

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At the end of the July 4th holiday weekend, the Biden administration Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the Spring 2024 edition of the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, a biannual presentation of federal regulatory priorities. This edition highlights the administration’s focus on public participation in the rulemaking process.

Traditionally, the Unified Agenda prioritized regulatory oversight, paperwork reduction, and balancing costs and benefits. However, under Biden’s 2023 Executive Order 14,094, OMB has shifted its emphasis from a watchdog role to promoting net benefits” through various government initiatives. A July 5th White House blog post framed the Agenda as supporting the administration’s claimed goals of investing in America, reducing family costs, combating climate change, and fostering economic growth.

The Spring 2024 Agenda reveals 3,698 rules from over 60 federal departments and agencies, an increase from 3,599 in the Fall 2023 edition. These are categorized into Active Actions (2,361), Completed Actions (689), and Long-term Actions (648). Active Actions include rules anticipated or prioritized for the near future, although the number has dropped slightly from fall, indicating a potential slowdown for the rest of 2024. Dialing back in certain respects is not unheard of in an election year.

Completed Actions, on the other hand, have surged, possibly due to potential use of Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions of disapproval in the 119th Congress. That is, rules not finalized before the final 60 legislative days of this 118th Congress are vulnerable to being overturned; so the early-year surge reflected in the new Agenda is not a surprise. 

A significant policy change now fully realized in the new Agenda is Biden’s redefinition of what constitutes a “significant regulatory action.” The threshold for deeper OMB scrutiny has increased from $100 million to $200 million in annual economic effects. Consequently, fewer rules now fall under this stricter review category, previously known as “economically significant” but now termed “Section 3(f)(1) Significant” (or S3F1). The Spring 2024 Agenda lists 287 S3F1 rules, compared to 303 in Fall 2023.

Despite the increase in the threshold, the Congressional Review Act’s $100 million designation for “major” rules remains intact. The Spring Agenda shows a marked uptick in completed major rules, potentially reflecting, as noted, the administration’s push to finalize rules before they become vulnerable to CRA disapproval in the next Congress. This body of completed major rules in the Unified Agenda—there are 97 of them—is particularly important for Congress to examine.

The Unified Agenda has historically served as a vital tool for assessing federal regulatory activity. However, under the Biden administration its effectiveness has been diminished. Congress must closely monitor these developments, particularly concerning significant rules with substantial economic consequences and their purported, but suspect, net benefits. Strengthening oversight and reinforcing OMB’s watchdog role will be crucial in effectively balancing regulatory benefits and costs.

Note: For more detail, with charts, see “Biden Releases Spring 2024 Unified Agenda Of Federal Regulations,” Forbes, July 7, 2024.