Ten Thousand Commandments: Regulations Increasingly Used to Enact Measures Voters Wouldn’t Approve

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 21, 2013 – In the twenty years since the creation of Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State, one trend has become clear: The regulatory state is growing in large part because the executive branch increasingly uses its control over rulemaking to enact policies it could not get approved by Congress.

According to the new edition of the report, released today by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans spend an estimated $1.8 trillion a year to comply with federal regulations. For the first time, that’s more than half the level of total federal expenditures. Agencies spend $61 billion per year just to administer and enforce federal regulations—a 50 percent increase in the last decade.

The 2012 Federal Register ranks fourth all-time with 78,961 pages, but three of the top four years, including the top two, occurred during the Obama administration. The 2010s are on pace to average 80,000 pages per year—up from 170,000 in the 1960s and 450,000 in the ‘70s.

Completed rules reviewed in the federal Unified Agenda compilation of priority regulations went up 16 percent in the last year and 40 percent the year before.

There are more federal regulations than ever—the Code of Federal Regulations, which compiles all federal regulations, grew by more than 4,000 pages last year and now stands at 174,545 pages, spread over 238 volumes. Its index alone runs to more than 1,100 pages.

Government has added more than 80,000 regulations in the last 20 years—3,708 in the last year alone. That’s one new rule Americans must live under every 2½ hours. Today, 4,062 sit in the pipeline. Those will add at least $22 billion in compliance costs and probably much more.

The dramatic growth in federal regulation did not begin with President Obama. The Federal Register stood at 75,606 in 2002—the sixth-highest level—and has been above 70,000 every year since except for 2009. But since then, it has recorded three of the four busiest years for regulatory activity in history.

And when it comes to economically significant rules—those expected to cost $100 million or more in compliance costs—the Obama administration is the unchallenged champion. Of the 4,062 rules in the pipeline, 224 are in this category. That level is 24 percent higher than President Bush’s most active year and far higher than any other year since 2000—except for 2010, which was tied.

The “Big Five” rulemakers—the Departments of Treasury, Commerce, the Interior, Agriculture and Transportation—account for 43 percent of that. EPA ranks sixth in rule making, but EPA regs, which are especially subject to being used to enact policies that would likely not pass muster with voters, are up 44 percent in the first Obama term and cost American taxpayers $353 billion per year—the most of any agency.

“It’s not just the politicization of the regulatory process,” said Wayne Crews, author of the report and vice president for policy at CEI. “It’s about transparency. It’s about cost and burden analysis. It’s about real outside audits of federal agencies. Asking agencies to audit themselves and identify their own weaknesses is like asking students to grade their own tests.”

The stakes are not insignificant. Americans implicitly spend nearly $15,000 per family to comply with federal regulations. That’s more than they spend on anything else except housing.

Crews cites two paths for reform. One is to enact true transparency and cost analyses. The other is to go to the source of the matter—the systematic over-delegation of rulemaking power to agencies. “Requiring expedited votes on economically significant or controversial agency rules before they become binding on the people would reestablish congressional accountability and help affirm the principle of ‘no regulation without representation,’” Crews said.

What do all these new rules do? The Department of Agriculture enacted a Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee program and new regulations concerning importation of unmanufactured wood articles. Health and Human Services added a spate of rules related to the Affordable Care Act and a review of what constitutes a single serving for labeling purposes.

The Department of Labor instituted a hearing conservation program for construction workers. The Department of Energy established conservation standards for wine chillers, battery chargers, TVs, residential humidifiers and mobile home furnaces. The Department of Transportation updated its regs on head restraints and rear center lap and shoulder belts. The Department of the Treasury prohibited funding of unlawful Internet gambling.

“What we’ve done for 20 years is round up the data that expose the hidden tax of regulation,” said Crews. “Government’s reach extends well beyond Washington’s taxes, deficits and borrowing. And these are costs we all pay—through higher taxes or lower wages.”

>> Read the 2013 edition of Ten Thousand Commandments

>> Read the 2013 Ten Thousand Commandments Fact Sheet

>> Browse the archive of past editions of the report