Keeping Busy: Federal Regulators Issued Over 4,000 Rules in 2003

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Washington, DC, June 16, 2004—While Washington rule makers made 19 fewer regulations in 2003 than they did in 2002, they lost no time issuing an astonishing 4,148 new rules in the 71,269-page Federal Register. The cost of these rules can never be fully known and appear nowhere in the federal budget, according to Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr., vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a new Cato Institute report.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

For the past eight years, Crews has analyzed countless pages of federal regulations in an attempt to make them more comprehensible in his report, Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State.  He examines the process behind creating these rules, why it's nearly impossible for the government to assess accurately what they cost, and he provides a way by which Congress can rein in the agencies behind the nonstop rule making.

Crews brings to light the fact that the agencies issuing the countless environmental, health and safety, and economic regulations are themselves unregulated by Congress.  In 2003, Congress passed and the president signed into law 198 bills. Meanwhile, federal agencies have 4,266 regulations in the pipeline—including 127 that are deemed “economically significant” because each will have at least $100 million in economic impact—with no oversight or approval needed from the legislature or the president. According to Crews, this is evidence that unelected officials do a considerable bulk of the lawmaking in Washington.

Crews finds that the total cost of federal regulations is estimated to be in excess of $800 billion, which is:

  • over twice the amount of the 2003 federal budget deficit of $375 billion
  • equivalent to 7.9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)
  • in excess of all pre-tax U.S. corporate profits, which were $665 billion in 2002
  • more expensive than all revenue from individual income taxes
  • more than the entire GDP of Canada
  • far greater than corporate income taxes of $143 billion

The best way to monitor regulation-happy federal agencies is to make Congress directly accountable for the regulations, according to Crews. He suggests a system in which Congress is required to approve all significant regulations proposed by the agencies, thus making regulatory costs more visible to the public and less attractive as an alternative to on-budget spending that will increase the deficit.

“A way to maximize congressional accountability is to require Congress to vote on agency rules (in an expedited fashion) before they become binding,” he writes. “Vital for true accountability, this step would fulfill citizens' expectation of 'no regulation without representation.'”