Federal Agency Rulemaking across Administrations

August 29, 2017

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The George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center is expanding its Reg Stats page to include data on the regulatory output of individual federal agencies during different presidents’ tenures in office.

Government agencies issue thousands of regulations each year, and it is no small task to identify which among them likely have the most substantial impacts on society. One metric that analysts find useful for analyzing regulatory output is whether a rule is classified as “economically significant”—which Executive Order (EO) 12866 defines as those estimated to have “an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more.” A look at the volume of economically significant rules issued by regulatory agencies can be a useful starting point to analyze regulatory priorities of different administrations and observe significant shifts in regulatory approaches over time.

For example, a look at the number of economically significant rules issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) illustrates a substantial shift in the agency’s regulatory approach throughout the years. From 1993 through 2016, DOE issued 40 economically significant rules—37 of which set energy efficiency standards for consumer appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators. It is interesting to note, however, that DOE issued the majority of these rules—almost 90% of them—since 2007. Although Congress authorized DOE to establish such standards under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), DOE’s increase in regulatory output correlates with passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). This amended EPCA, in part, by mandating an increase in efficiency standards for energy-using durables. President Obama embraced energy efficiency as a regulatory priority under his administration; DOE issued 31 of these rules since he took office in 2009.

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The table below shows the number of economically significant rules issued by select executive branch agencies under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Chart showing the economically significant rules passed by President Clinton, Bush, and Obama's administrations by agency.

Another useful way to look at regulatory output is as a percentage of total rulemaking activity. For example, regulations issued by HHS comprised roughly the same percentage of total regulatory output under both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations (roughly 40%), while they only accounted for 21% of economically significant rules under President Clinton. The increase in output during the Bush administration (116 economically significant rules) is partly explained by the expansion of Medicare to cover pharmaceuticals (Medicare Part D). Passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 drives the increase in regulatory output during the Obama Administration (159 economically significant rules). In both cases, the data indicate that HHS is currently a much more active regulator—both in absolute terms and as a percentage of an administration’s regulatory output—than it was in the past.


See also: Graphs Showing Economically Significant Rules Issued by Select Executive Agencies under Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama