118th Congress Should Confront Biden Administration On Overdue Regulatory Cost Benefit Reports

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Not later than February 5, 2001, and on the first Monday in February of each year thereafter, the President, acting through the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, shall prepare and submit to the Congress an accounting statement and associated report containing an estimate of the total annual costs and benefits of Federal regulatory programs, including rules and paperwork—

(1) in the aggregate;

(2) by agency, agency program, and program component; and

(3) by major rule.

—Regulatory Right-to-Know Act of 1999

Why is it impossible to get timely reports from the federal bureaucracy on the costs and benefits of federal regulation, even when required by law?

An immediate cause is that no accountability exists for failing to adhere to the laws requiring such reports. The deeper cause is that progressive central planners believe government control of economy and society is inherently beneficial rather than lethal; so it would be contradictory for overseers to regard mere incremental regulation as somehow problematic. From the planner’s’ mindset, liberty stands in their way in pursuit of their all-knowing “modernization” and transformation of the Republic.

Detailed federal budgetary statistics tell you what the bipartisan juggernaut (over) spends, although amid smoke, mirrors and absent audits that obscure harsher realities. But official reporting on costs and benefits of regulations—always abysmal—continues to slide under Joe Biden, who might well be regarded as the Edward Scissorhands of federal regulatory disclosure. Much of these Biden escalations of the administrative state in the wake of Trump’s efforts to streamline were covered in the 2022 Ten Thousand Commandments.

Since then, alongside a 2022 roundup of some of Biden’s more recent 2022 regulatory track record, we inquired into the whereabouts of Biden’s tardy Fall 2022 edition of the twice yearly Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which is still nowhere to be seen in 2023. This mandatory compilation is where agencies present their regulatory priorities, and its absence is not a good sign: in Spring 2012 under Biden’s former boss Barack Obama, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Regulatory Information Service Center didn’t even bother issuing the Unified Agenda at all, and one hopes Biden’ isn’t taking a cue from Obama’s transgression.

That’s because there’s an even more important mandatory update on the regulatory enterprise that’s also Missing in Action. Herein, we’ll take a look at the annual (well, it used to be) Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Agency Compliance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.

This report, required by the 1999 “Regulatory Right-to-Know Act” cited at the opening of this article, is where the White House Office of Management and Budget is directed to (but does not) estimate the aggregate cost of regulation, and inform the public about what it reckons to be the “net-benefits” or net costs of the overall enterprise as well as of its components.

Did you happen to note that “first Monday in February” directive in the bill text quoted above? The Draft versions alone of this report are consistently overdue; and yes, it happened under Trump, too, who issued Obama’s final and then-latest-ever overdue 2017 Draft edition of the Report to Congress, covering fiscal year 2016, or October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016. Meanwhile, no Final 2016 Report covering fiscal year 2015 ever appeared, then or since. Trump then only partially caught up on Reports of his own in an unprecedented bulk-release of a 2018, 2019 and 2020 Draft Report to Congress compendium just before Christmas in 2019 (in a curious twist that made Trump’s fiscal 2019 draft the earlier ever).

That that’s about where things stopped. Trump issued the Final versions of the 2018-2020 combined reports in January 2021. But that only brings us current through fiscal year 2019; since then, there has been nothing. With Biden, as we enter 2023 and watch a 118th Congress with a GOP majority enter amid fraternal turmoil, we find ourselves three fiscal years behind on the OMB Report to Congress on official tallies of costs and benefits of regulations.

Time was, the Draft Report to Congress for a given fiscal year would appear in the subsequent calendar year with which it overlapped (for example, a normal 2022 fiscal year presentation would appear to us soon in a “2023 Draft Report.” As the list below indicates, while the aspirational February deadlines were met in 2003 and 2004, one tended to see the Draft report most frequently in March, and usually by April at the latest, with notable outliers during the Bush/Obama transition (the September 2008 and 2009 Draft reports were the latest ever up to that point). At the outset of the Right-to-Know Act project, even Final reports tended to appear within the calendar year indicated on their cover, or in the first half of the year after at worst. The list below shows the month (and day of the month if available) during which the Draft and Final) Report to Congress has appeared since 2002.

Read the full article on Forbes.