How Is Trump’s “One-In, Two-Out” Policy On Federal Regulations Going?

The Trump White House has just published the “Spring” 2017 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

The Unified Agenda is the federal government’s twice-yearly, cross-sectional snapshot of rules and regulations at various stages flowing through the federal regulatory pipeline.

It reveals agency priorities, and (incompletely) provides the public some sense of what Washington departments and agencies like the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission have in store for you.

The Interior Department, for example, intends to “reduce its regulatory stockpile by 50 percent and withdraw 152 regulatory actions” according to one report.

Yes, the Agenda, once upon a time published regularly in April and October, is chronically late; Obama’s Fall 2016 edition appeared the weekend before Thanksgiving (I did a writeup of all the missed deadlines here).

Trump’s tardiness at least has the excuse of beginning to implement the president’s executive order establishing a “one-in, two-out” policy on regulations. A detailed 13-page “data call” directive to the agencies in March made all that clear.

How have the agencies done six months in? The administration reports (verbatim):

  • Agencies withdrew 469 actions proposed in the Fall 2016 Agenda;
  • Agencies reconsidered 391 active actions by reclassifying them as long-term (282) and inactive (109), allowing for further careful review;
  • Economically significant regulations fell to 58, or about 50 percent less than Fall 2016;

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney separately noted that the administration had gotten rid of (withdrawn or reconsidered) 860 rules, acknowledging, however, that “None of them are very sexy.” But this administration’s operating mode is certainly different than anything seen in years, even if reductions so far involve things like paperwork burdens and fail to “rise to the level of getting national attention.”

Mulvaney explained further.

[T]he goal is two-for-one. When it comes to major actions — we’re at 16 to 1. Sixteen major deregulatory actions in the first six months of this administration. There’s one new one. Is anybody going to guess what it is? Does somebody know? No dentists here? You know what it is? Yes. The dental amalgam rule. Apparently we’re now regulating something to do with the stuff we put in our teeth….

…So that’s the only significant new reg we put out in the first six months. We’ve gotten rid of 16. Twelve of those are CRAs [Congressional Review Act “resolutions of disapproval”] you’re probably familiar with, and four of them have gone through the agency process and so forth.

The real work has to start now, since those RODs were a one-off; Obama “midnight rules” temporarily available for Congress to target and Trump to sign as legislation during a short time frame.

The Agenda tells about rules at several stages:

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

It’s an annoyance but, alas, an ironclad feature of the Administrative Procedure Act that getting rid of a rule also requires writing a new rule to do that job, making complicated cross-administration comparisons tricky. But here we go (but keep in mind that many Agenda entries are holdovers from earlier volumes).

The Spring 2017 Agenda reports on 3,521 rules and regulations at the “active,” “completed” and “long-term” stages; Obama’s Fall 2016 Agenda contained 3,320 rules and regulations. Here’s the breakdown between the two presidents:

Rules in the Unified Agenda Pipeline Obama Trump

  Obama Trump
Active 2,095 1,731
Completed 667 1,094
Long-term 558 696
Total 3,320 3,251

Remember too the Agenda is a snapshot of a pipeline priorities, whether newly completed or in process. It doesn’t contain everything. The full inventory of rules proposed and finalized is higher. We can see this somewhat in the total tallies of final and proposed rules I assembled elsewhere, but also see that Trump’s totals are far lower than Obama’s (“Trump’s Regulations at Six Months: The Least-Regulatory President since Reagan“).Obviously the big thing here is the drop in “active” rules. I haven’t taken a dive through the far greater number of “completed” rules from Trump, but this could partly reflect cuts (since those are “rules” too).

Of the Unified Agenda’s 3,000-plus rules in the pipeline, there is a subset deemed “economically significant.” Agencies project these to have economic effects of at least $100 million annually (usually costs, but sometimes savings).

As noted, the administration made a point of saying that “Economically significant regulations fell to 58, or about 50 percent less than Fall 2016.” Indeed, Obama’s counts of economically significant rules completed had hit record levels.

Obama’s Fall 2016 Agenda reported on a flow of 193 “economically significant” rules and regulations at the “active,” “completed” and “long-term” stages. Trump’s total stands at 172. Here’s a more complete breakdown of economically significant rules for the two:

Economically Significant Rules in the Unified Agenda Pipeline Obama Trump

  Obama Trump
Active 113 58
Completed 47 67
Long-term 33 47
Total 193 172

Unlike the overall count for rules, Trump’s economically significant count is lower than Obama’s. In noting the count of 58 rules, Trump’s Office of Management and Budget was clearly referring to the “active” subset which accounts for the net decrease.

Over-regulation is bipartisan, but the annual flow of larger-scale rules was considerably higher under Obama than it had been under his predecessor George W. Bush. Now the count is being driven down by Trump’s executive orders including a requirement that net new costs be zero.

We should have a couple more chances this year to see how things are going. The Fall Unified Agenda volumes also contain a “Regulatory Plan” with more details.

Also, the OMB’s annual Report to Congress on Benefits and Costs of regulations (a separate report from the Agenda, examining and tallying some major rules costs) is due. The last edition I see is the December 2016 Draft on an Obama archive page. By now we should have the final 2016 report, and conceivably the draft 2017.

How the 2-for-1 is working out? It got a big boost from the CRA resolutions of disapproval; now, the job falls to the rulemaking process itself.

Originally posted to Forbes Online.