Trump’s New Regulatory Reform Agenda – By the Numbers

Today the Trump administration released the Fall 2017 edition of the twice-yearly Regulatory Plan and Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, accompanied by a statement by the President, as well as a Wall Street Journal column by Office of Management and Budget Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator Neomi Rao.

The Unified Agenda (the “Plan” is included in the Fall edition of the Unified Agenda each year) is hardly riveting reading for most people. It’s been around since the early 80s but most have probably not heard of it. However, the Agenda and Regulatory Plan in particular do reveal regulatory priorities of the federal regulatory bureaucracy. The roundup has suffered in recent years from delays in its traditional April and October release schedule, and this year is no different (Trump’s Reg Plan is actually the latest ever, although his emphasis on reviewing the inventory for cuts is wholly unique).

President Trump administration is making something of a show of the release of the Fall 2017 Edition’s deregulatory character.  Usually the Agenda appears with no mention whatever. This is, after all, the year of one-in, two-out for federal agency rulemaking, by way of Trump’s Executive Order 13771 on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs

The White House claims that goal was easily met, with a 22-to-1 out/in ratio, since only three new regulatory actions were imposed while 67 deregulatory actions were taken. Of these, 15 were Obama-era regulations eliminated by means of the Congressional Review Act, repeals signed into law by the president.

The new-under-the-sun message is “Agencies are now expected to regulate only when explicitly authorized by law.”

In Trump’s first 2017 Agenda installment, 469 actions proposed in former President Barack Obama’s Fall 2016 Agenda were withdrawn, and another 391 reclassified to permit further review, for a total of 860.

The December regulatory Agenda has brought the tally up to 1,579 planned regulatory actions, withdrawn or delayed, broken down as follows:

  • 635 regulations were withdrawn.
  • 244 regulations were made inactive.
  • 700 regulations were delayed.

In anticipation of the Fall Agenda edition, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator Neomi Rao issued a September 17, 2017 memorandum to Regulatory Reform Officers at executive departments and agencies on “FY 2018 Regulatory Cost Allowances.” (Independent agencies get a pass, a major loophole in regulatory liberalization.)

The no-net-new costs provisions of Trump’s 2-for-1 executive order have been regarded as something of a mini regulatory budget. Rao’s directive takes things further by calling on agencies to “prepare a proposed total incremental cost allowance” and articulate how it conforms to Trump’s deregulatory executive order.

Even more, where Trump’s E.O. 13771 called for zero net new costs, Rao’s memorandum, now amplified by Trump and Pence, “expects that each agency will propose a net reduction in total incremental regulatory costs for FY 2018.”

As it stands, savings of $8 billion (in present value terms) are anticipated for 2017, and $10 billion in the coming year. Regulations cost hundreds of billions, however.

Today’s agenda shows Trump’s agencies to have 3,209 overall rules in play. The comparison with former President Barack Obama in his final Unified Agenda, appears here:

Fall Unified Agenda flows

Obama 2016              Trump 2017

Active (these include pre-rule, proposed and final):  2,095                           1977

Completed:                                                                 665                              470

Long-term:                                                                  558                              762

TOTAL:                                                                     3,320                           3,209

Perhaps more important in the 2-for-1 campaign and in preliminary regulatory budgeting is the component of rules in the Agenda classified as “economically significant,” which loosely means they have $100 million in effects. Here’s how Trump and Obama compare:

Fall Unified Agenda “Economically Significant” rule flows

Obama 2016              Trump 2017

Active (pre-rule, proposed, final):                              113                              71

Completed:                                                                 47                                21

Long-term:                                                                  33                                48

TOTAL:                                                                     193                              140

The flow overall flow of economically significant rules is 27 percent lower, but Trump’s figures also contain numerous “rules’ that are withdrawals or holds of pre-existing orders, so the deregulation behind the scenes may be understated in that sense.

Future regulatory reforms from Congress will need to require that regulatory and deregulatory actions be classified separately, while also harmonizing the overly confusing rule classifications that agencies use, as well as subjecting agency “guidance documents” to reform as well, since these can be regulatory in effect but are nowhere to be found in the Unified Agenda.

Easily one of the most important modifications in the new Regulatory Plan and Unified Agenda is the transformative change in the rule roundup presented in OIRA’s database to capture the specifics of E.O. 13771.  Under “EO 13771 Designation,” there is now a radio-button search selection option for each of the following:

  • Deregulatory
  • Regulatory
  • Fully or Partially Exempt
  • Not subject to, not significant
  • Other
  • Independent agency

In the absence of regulatory reform from Congress, the liberalization actions being taken by the Administration, within the rule of law and statutory requirements, are aggressive. They are restoring accountability.