Federal budgets are chronically late and always unbalanced, but we do get them eventually. Increasingly, we get them good and hard, as we did with last week’s fetid Omnibus.
So we do get budgets, albeit ones that will be racking up $2 trillion annual deficits before 2030. What we don’t get at all are “budgets” for regulation, the heft of which arguably exceeds spending since it has become so all-encompassing, yet regulatory disclosure has evaporated in many ways.
The Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, with lineage going back to Regulatory Flexibility Act signed by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12291, has been issued in the spring and fall each year since the early 1980s.
Here we are in the record-setting deep freeze of winter 2022, and the Fall 2022 Unified Agenda has yet to appear. The Agenda serves as the forum for departments and agencies to itemize proposed, final, and recently completed rules. The Fall Agenda has never been this late. There remain only three more days left in the federal work week, and four days before 2023.
The last time anything like this was witnessed was during the the Obama administration’s failure to publish the spring 2012 edition of the Agenda. This time is worse, since the Fall Agenda always contains department and agency “Regulatory Plans” laying out agency priorities in more detail.
The last “Regulatory Plan,” 12 months ago, showcased an administration committed to vision of pan-agency progressivism. At a bare minimum, it’d be useful for the 118th Congress to force the Agenda back on track. For much of its existence, it would appear pretty much like clockwork every spring and fall, usually April and October.
Now things have deteriorated such that it’s unclear what the fix is, or if there can be one. When the Fall 2018 edition (during the Trump administration) appeared on October 17 of that year, it was the first time the fall edition has arrived “on schedule” in October in quite a while. Release dates creeped back into December even under Trump, though, with the Biden’s Fall 2021 edition landing December 10. But 2022? We’re still waiting.
It is unlikely to come as a shock that the neglected Unified Agenda has company. Another obligatory regulatory disclosure also routinely ignored is the Information Collection Budget of the United States Government covering paperwork costs. The last one covered fiscal year 2018, but even then, not appearing until 2020.
Among the other deficient reports is also the White House Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations. The last edition we have appeared in January 2021, but covered only fiscal year 2019 and ultra-tardy FY 2017 and FY 2018 volumes. So we’re due at least three editions of the Report to Congress which, when it does appear, reveals that cost-benefit analysis happens for less than 1 percent of rules and regulations. Prior to the latest “Omnibus” Report to Congress covering the aforementioned three fiscal years, 10-year-lookbacks of cost-benefit tallies were provided. That was already an inferior replacement for an aggregate cost estimate required by the 1999 Regulatory Right-to-Know Act. Now even the decade lookback windows have vanished, and there is no overall vision tying together over a century of federal agency interventions.
Granted, the Unified Agenda presents limited and selective data, which is not the same as genuine information, but it’s one of the only metrics we have to gauge the off-budget hidden tax, of regulation, which can be as bad or worse than spending.
Congress needs to address both the timeliness and content of the Unified Agenda of federal regulations and address regulatory disclosures and accountability issues more broadly. And it needs to address that fiscal budget, too.