The 2022 edition of Wayne Crews’s Ten Thousand Commandments report is out now. Now in its 28th year, it has its usual panoply of numbers showing the extent of the regulatory state, and argues for several reforms. But behind those numbers, an interesting story is beginning to unfold—and it is still going on; next year’s edition should be even more revealing.
The heart of that story is that while the Trump and Biden administrations have similar policies on trade, antitrust, spending, and industrial policy, they have different operating philosophies. With a year’s worth of data now in the books, that difference is beginning to show up in agency behavior, and not for the better.
The Trump administration had a promising start with several reforms, including a one-in-two-out initiative for getting rid of old rules and significant transparency improvements for regulatory “dark matter” such as guidance documents. But then, to phrase it diplomatically, the former president was distracted by other matters.
That was a problem for those regulatory reforms because they were enacted via executive order, not congressional legislation. That made them easy for a future president to undo (spoiler: they were). Congress, similarly distracted, introduced several bills to codify the reforms, but never scheduled the time to pass them.
Then the Republicans lost their majority in 2018, and with it, any chance of passing those bills. Then Trump ramped up his trade wars, revived Progressive Era antitrust enforcement, 1950s-era industrial policy, and other regulatory expansions with costs that outweighed the initial reforms.
After President Biden won the 2020 election, he undid the Trump-era reforms that Congress never protected, and kept most of Trump’s big-government policies. Then he began implementing a “whole-of-government” approach to policy making. And that is where differences between the two administrations are emerging.
Rather than have agencies focus on their individual missions, the whole-of-government approach enlists every agency to work on larger policy goals such as climate change or social justice, even if those have little to do with an agency’s mission.
This change in management philosophy hasn’t yet had much impact on the total number of rules coming out or increased their cost; estimated burdens rose from $1.9 trillion to $1.927 trillion from 2020-2021, according to Ten Thousand Commandments, but the change is already creating headaches at multiple agencies.
For example, the military is now supposed to treat climate change as a national security threat, which takes resources away from addressing Russia, China, and other more immediate threats. Climate and social justice are also supposed to factor into decisions on roughly $500 billion worth of annual federal contracts for the military, NASA, and other agencies.
The whole-of-government story is still in its early stages, and Ten Thousand Commandments documents this first chapter in detail. It also points to reform ideas such as annual regulatory report cards for agencies, reforms to cost-benefit analysis, a regulatory budget, and more, which would help limit the damage from whole-of-government regulating.
Read the whole report here.