Big Sexy Holiday Fun With The Fall 2015 Unified Agenda Of Federal Regulations

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Fall 2015 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions is out, appearing the weekend before Thanksgiving again.

The Agenda, a cross-sectional snapshot of rules moving through the federal regulatory pipeline, is meant to help give the regulated public a better sense of what’s happening with Washington bureaucracies like the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Agency-reported federal regulatory priorities get aired at several stages:

  • Prerule actions;
  • Proposed and final rules;
  • Actions completed during the previous few months; and
  • Anticipated longer-term rulemakings beyond a 12-month horizon.

The Fall 2015 Agenda reports on 3,297 rules and regulations at the “active,” “completed” and “long-term” stages, many of them holdovers from earlier volumes. This is down from 3,415 last year.

  • Active (these include pre-rule, proposed and final): 2,244 (there were 2,321 last fall)
  • Completed: 554 (629 last fall)
  • Long-term: 500 (465 last fall)
  • TOTAL: 3,297 (3,415 last fall)

The Agenda appeared pretty much like clockwork every spring and fall, usually April and October, between 1983 and 2011. But recent releases seem timed to draw as little attention as possible, appearing often at holiday weekends:

  • Fall 2012: The Friday before Christmas (that Monday was Christmas Eve)
  • Fall 2013: The day before Thanksgiving
  • Fall 2014: The Friday before Thanksgiving
  • Fall 2015: The Friday before Thanksgiving

Interestingly, the “spring” 2013 edition appeared in summer the day before July 4th, while no spring 2012 edition appeared at all.

Of the Unified Agenda’s 3,000-plus rules in the pipeline, there is a costly subset deemed “economically significant.” These are projected to have economic effects of at least $100 million annually (usually upward, but sometimes downward).

While the overall Agenda count is down (except in the long-term category), that seems to obscure an increase in the volume of more costly rules over the past several years.

The Fall 2015 Agenda reports on 218 “economically significant” rules and regulations at the “active,” “completed” and “long-term” stages. This is up from 200 at this point last year.

  • Active (pre-rule, proposed, final): 149 (131 last fall)
  • Completed: 36 (31 last fall)
  • Long-term: 33 (38 last fall)
  • TOTAL: 218 (200 last Fall)

Economically significant rules and regulations went up in every category this past year, even as overall rule counts are lower.

Over-regulation is a bipartisan phenomenon, but the annual flow of completed larger-scale rules has been considerably higher under Obama than it was under President George W. Bush. (See Figure 19 in the report Ten Thousand Commandments).

Here’s another way of looking at the big picture of economically significant regulations as of fall 2015:

  • Bush’s entire eight years brought 390 completed economically significant rules.
  • Obama’s first seven years have brought 468 completed economically significant rules, with another year to go.

Bush averaged 49 annually, Obama’s average is 67.

Meanwhile, annual Federal Register page counts are at record levels; this daily compendium just hit 73,086 pages today as a matter of fact. And the number of overall final regulations remains well over 3,000 annually, accumulating without relief.

As the Federal Register has long ominously noted about the Unified Agenda, “The Regulatory Plan and the Unified Agenda do not create a legal obligation on agencies to adhere to schedules in this publication or to confine their regulatory activities to those regulations that appear within it.”

Further, given President Barack Obama’s promise go around Congress and regulate via the “pen and phone,” increasing amounts of “regulatory dark matter” happening off the books now competes with these ordinary regulations and even actual laws that we can see and count.

So Congress should keep a much closer eye on the bureaucracy than it does, and a new president should take the opportunity to roll back many of the executive actions that have taken place. The pen and phone could use a taste of “liberty’s meataxe,” and there’s an agenda for that.

Originally posted at