Ten Thousand Commandments 2017

An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State

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Ten Thousand Commandments is the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual survey of the size, scope, and cost of federal regulations, and how the U.S. regulatory burden affects American consumers, businesses, and the economy. Authored by CEI Vice President for Policy Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr., it shines a light on the large and growing “hidden tax” of America’s regulatory state.

Federal government spending, deficits, and the national debt are staggering, but so is the impact of federal regulations. Unfortunately, regulations get little attention in policy debates because, unlike taxes, they are unbudgeted, difficult to quantify, and their effects are often indirect. By making Washington’s rules and mandates more comprehensible, Crews underscores the need for more review, transparency, and accountability for new and existing federal regulations.

The 2017 edition of Ten Thousand Commandments is unique and will serve as a benchmark to measure President Trump’s efforts to cut red tape against those of his predecessors. President Obama’s final year in office showed a regulatory surge. Will Trump keep his promise and slam the breaks on overregulation?

Highlights from the 2017 edition include:

  • Based on federal government data, past reports, and contemporary studies, this report estimates regulatory compliance and economic impacts of federal inter­vention to be $1.9 trillion annually.
  • The Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis and the George Washington University Regulatory Stud­ies Center in Washington, D.C., jointly estimate that agencies spent $63 billion in fiscal year 2016 to administer the federal regulatory state. Adding the $1.9 trillion in off-budget compliance costs brings the total reckoned regulatory enterprise to about $1.963 trillion.
  • If U.S. regulation was a country, it would be the world’s seventh-largest economy, ranking behind India and ahead of Italy.
  • The estimated cost of regulation is equivalent to half the level of federal spending, which was $3.854 trillion in 2016.
  • Regulatory costs of $1.9 trillion amount to 10 percent of the U.S. gross domes­tic product, which was estimated at $18.861 trillion in 2016 by the Com­merce Department’s Bureau of Eco­nomic Analysis.
  • When regulatory costs are combined with federal FY 2016 outlays of $3.854 trillion, the federal government’s share of the entire economy reaches 30 percent (not including state and local spending and regulation).
  • During calendar year 2016, Congress enacted 214 laws, whereas agencies issued 3,853 rules. Thus, 18 rules were issued for every law enacted. This “Unconstitutionality Index”—the ratio of regulations issued by agencies to laws passed by Congress and signed by the president—highlights the delegation of lawmaking power to unelected agency officials. The average for the past decade has been 27.
  • If one assumes that all costs of federal regulation and intervention flowed all the way down to households, U.S. households would “pay” $14,809 annu­ally on average in a regulatory hidden tax. That amounts to 21 percent of the average income of $69,629 and 26.45 percent of the expenditure budget of $55,978. The “tax” exceeds every item in the budget except housing. More is “spent” on embedded regulation than on health care, food, transportation, enter­tainment, and apparel.
  • Of the 3,318 regulations in the pipeline, 193 are “economically significant” rules, which the federal government defines as having annual effects on the economy of $100 million or more.
  • The five most active rulemaking entities—the Departments of the Treasury, the Interior, Transportation, Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency—account for 1,428 rules, or 43 percent of all federal regulations under consideration.
  • Public notices in the Federal Register normally exceed 24,000 annually, with uncounted guidance documents and other proclamations with potential regu­latory effect among them. There were 24,557 notices in 2016. There have been 550,489 public notices since 1994 and well over a million since the 1970s.
  • The 2016 Federal Register contains 95,894 pages, the highest level in its history and 19 percent higher than the previous year’s 80,260 pages.
  • Last year, the Obama administration averaged 86 “major” rules, a 36 percent higher average annual output than that of President George W. Bush. President Obama issued 685 major rules during his term, compared with Bush’s 505.

View the fact sheet

Ten Thousand Commandments 2017 Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Chapter 1: The Cost of Regulation and Intervention
Chapter 2: Thousands of Pages and Rules in the Federal Register
Chapter 3: Presidential Executive Orders and Executive Memoranda
Chapter 4: More than 24,000 Public Notices Annually
Chapter 5: Analysis of the Regulatory Plan and Unified Agenda of Federal Regulations
Chapter 6: GAO Database on Regulation
Chapter 7: Regulation and the FCC
Chapter 8: Liberate to Stimulate