Ten Thousand Commandments 2023 is out now

The 2023 edition of CEI’s flagship annual study, Wayne Crews’s Ten Thousand Commandments, is out now. For those not familiar, 10KC gives a big-picture overview of the federal regulatory state. Just as the federal government discloses data for revenues, outlays, and each agency’s budget allocation each year, it should do the same for regulations. But it doesn’t, so Crews fills in the gap. This is also the 30th anniversary of his first Ten Thousand Commandments report, released in 1993.

Some of the numbers Crews has found:

  • Federal regulatory burdens cost $1.94 trillion per year.
  • That’s more than $14,500 per household.
  • That’s also about 7.4 percent of GDP.
  • The Code of Federal Regulations is now more than 188,000 pages long.
  • Agencies issued 3,168 final regulations last year, with a similar number expected for 2023.
  • The Fall 2022 Unified Agenda lists 3,690 upcoming regulations in various stages of the rulemaking process right now.

Ten Thousand Commandments has more than data. It has ideas for reform, one of which is better transparency. Decent transparency should not be a controversial issue for either party, since they both depend on good data to see if their policies are working or not. And yet, Washington finds a way.

The numbers above come from information that agencies deign to make public, and a lot of it is low-quality. Agencies low-ball costs and exaggerate benefits, so $1.94 trillion is almost certainly an underestimate of true regulatory burdens. More realistic government data would almost certainly yield a higher figure.

Transparency has always been a problem with regulators, but it has gotten worse under the Biden administration. Fewer rules now receive cost-benefit analysis thanks in part to a raised threshold that exempts more rules from scrutiny. Changes to Circular A-4, which contains guidelines for conducting cost-benefit analysis, is also changing. OMB’s analysts are no longer supposed to give objective analysis of a rule’s effects. They are supposed to find ways to justify those rules.

Other reform ideas would improve the regulatory state’s institutional structures.

Whole-of-government campaigns on issues like climate and equity task already-strained agencies with new responsibilities that often have nothing to do with their missions; this should stop.

Agencies often dodge the legally required rulemaking process by using regulatory dark matter. Regulations upheld in courts have instead been issued through guidance documents, press releases, and even blog posts. This abuse must end.

Federal spending also begets new regulation. Subsidies to chipmakers under the CHIPS Act, for example, come with strings attached such as requirements to pay for employees’ child care. Congressional restraint and a rediscovery of federalism, where state and local governments administer state and local issues, would both help to slow down the onslaught of new regulations.

The whole report is here.