Trump’s Regulations at Six Months: The Least-Regulatory President since Reagan

No one is surprised that the Trump administration would issue considerably fewer regulations than the Obama administration.

Today we got not only “Donald J. Trump’s Six Months of America First” media statement, covering energy, the Supreme Court appointment of Neil Gorsuch, government accountability, trade, regulations and the like. We also got the obscure “Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions,” which lists agency priorities. It’s been published twice a year since the Reagan administration. It just happens that the Agenda and the six-month mark happened on the same day.

Early in his administration, Trump prominently declared that 70 percent of regulations “can go,” issued a regulatory freeze, and required agencies to eliminate at least two rules for every new rule adopted. Any new costs need to be offset.

Topline numbers from the new Spring 2017 Unified Agenda are (at least as of this morning; the site has been down all afternoon):

  • Active (pre-rule, proposed and final): 1731  (economically significant among these, 58)
  • Completed: 1094 (economically significant among these, 67)
  • Long-term: 696 (economically significant among these, 47) 

Barack Obama’s final Agenda had more “active” rules, but fewer “completed” and “long-term” ones. Overall, Trump’s numbers were higher at 3,521, but getting rid of a rule requires issuing a “rule” to do so. So diagnostics on the Agenda will be ongoing. The Interior Department, for example, has talked of reducing its regulations by 50 percent.

Another takeaway is that there are usually 100-plus economically significant rules each year (those with an effect of at least $100 million). Trump’s numbers here are higher than Obama’s, but remember that Trump agency rules have to be offset, and there is bound to be a higher proportion of regular rules and economically significant rules that are deregulatory, yet must be reported as rules nonetheless. Green eyeshades will tell the tale.

The Agenda outlines agency priorities, so a better gauge is the Federal Register, which depicts all agency rules. When one looks at Federal Register data, overall rules and significant rules from Trump’s first six months are way down compared to Obama. 

Trump final rules down compared to Obama’s first six months

We can compare executive branch and independent agency rules the Trump administration has issued so far, to the same period under President Obama in 2016.

Six Months of Trump Regulations Compared to Obama (January 20-July 20)

                                                Rules                           Significant Rules                  

Trump 2017                1,509                            99                                           

Obama 2016               1,865                           173

The Trump administration, in six months, has issued 1,509 rules. Over the corresponding six months in 2016 (January 20-July 20), Obama issued 1,865 rules. Trump’s tally represents a 19 percent decrease.  

Again,  getting rid of a rule requires issuing a “rule” in order to comply with Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment requirements, so some of these numbers may obscure that some of Trump’s rules have been eliminations or delays of earlier rules that had not yet reached their effective date (this EPA example contains several). And new costs imposed by agencies must be zero. So it is dramatic that raw counts are down even in the face of “rules” that aren’t rules.  

Trump’s agencies have issued 99 significant rules—those with at least $100 million ion estimated annual impacts—during his first six months, while Obama’s issued 173 over the same six-month period in 2016, a decrease of 44 percent. Again, this does not take into account that often deferrals or freezes or whether rule costs have been offset.   

Rules in the pipeline are way down 

We just covered are rules finalized. Proposed rules are in the process of being created—that is, written and submitted to notice and comment. (Again, some of these will likely be efforts to revoke rules.)

If final rules are down under Trump, overall proposed rules are down even more so, and not just compared to Obama, but also to George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (second term too).

Six Months of Trump Proposed Rules Compared to Predecessors (January 20-July 20)

            Proposed Rules                 Significant Rules           Proposed Rules                     

Trump            (2017)               844                              47

Obama            (2016)             1248                            207

Obama            (2009)               947                            135

Bush               (2008)              1231                            197                 

Bush               (2001)              1176                              84

Clinton           (2000)              1420                            138

Clinton           (1997)              1569                            126

Trump’s overall proposed rules in the pipeline are down 32 percent compared to Obama’s final year’s comparable interval (Trump’s 844 compared to Obama’s 1248) and Trump’s significant proposed rules are down 77 percent from his predecessor (47 compared to Obama’s 207). New, large-scale regulation seems to have largely stopped in 2017, and where it doesn’t, new costs need to be offset. 

The Trump mode so far is to regulate bureaucrats rather than the public. This seems significant for the administrative state. The last time we saw anything comparable was when regulations and Federal Register page counts both dropped by over a third under Reagan