Acton Institute Powerblog

5 Facts about federal regulations

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Vice President Pence will be giving a speech today emphasizing the importance the Trump administration places on reviewing regulatory policy. Today’s date of October 2 was selected to mark the start of the next fiscal year, when federal agencies will be expected to generate below zero dollars in net new regulatory costs.

Here are five facts you should know about federal regulations:

1. Regulations are rules that have the force of law and that are issued by various federal government departments and agencies to carry out the intent of legislation enacted by Congress. The executive branch, through the various regulatory agencies, carries out most interpretation of legislation. Regulatory agencies handle administrative law, primarily by codifying and enforcing rules and regulations. When Congress passes a new law it usually goes to a regulatory agency to determine how the law will be put in place.

2. When Federal regulatory agencies translate Congressional directives into regulations they must follow provisions set out in the Federal Administrative Procedure Act (5 USC 551-702). This act establishes procedures for developing new regulations, including steps for soliciting and responding to public comment. Before establishing a new regulation, an agency must issue a draft regulation, obtain and consider public comment, and then issue the final regulation. Each step must be published in the Federal Register—the “official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents.” Objections raised during the public comment period must be addressed before the final regulation is adopted. After it is adopted, the final regulation is incorporated into the Code of Federal Regulations and becomes official government regulatory policy that must be followed.

3. From 1975 to 2016 regulatory agencies added 195,157 regulations to the Federal Register. The number of additional final rules published each year is generally in the range of 2,500-4,500, according to the Office of the Federal Register. (Many of the final regulation are amending rules that have been previously issued and therefore may not accurately be considered to be new rules. Also, if an agency eliminates an already existing rule, this is considered a “rulemaking” action under the Administrative Procedure Act and would be published in the rules and regulations section of the Federal Register, even if it is a deregulatory action.)

4. No one knows exactly how much regulations cost Americans. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) annually surveys regulatory costs and benefits, but includes only a small fraction of the number of actual regulations (129 in their latest report). The Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates the real federal regulatory costs to be $1.902 trillion a year. This is an amount equal to the 2016 individual income tax revenues ($1.628 trillion) and corporate income taxes collected by the U.S. government (estimated at $292.6 billion for 2016) combined.

5. In January, President Trump signed an executive order titled, “Reducing Regulation And Controlling Regulatory Costs.” The stated purpose of the executive order is “to manage the costs associated with the governmental imposition of private expenditures required to comply with Federal regulations.” A major change by this order is that whenever an executive department or agency publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it must identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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