Midnight Regulations

The final months of an outgoing presidential administration typically generate a significant amount of regulatory activity. This increased regulatory activity during the “midnight” period has been documented as early as the Carter administration’s transition to Reagan, and has accompanied every presidential transition since, regardless of political party. The midnight period is typically defined as the period between the presidential election in November and Inauguration Day on January 20th of the following year.

View related charts on our Reg Stats page

Cumulative Economically Significant Final Rules by Administration

Line graph of major rules for various administrations by month.

This graph tracks the cumulative number of economically significant final regulations published by executive branch agencies under different administrations, during equivalent months in office, from President Reagan to President Trump.

It is interesting to note how each administration follows the same general trend upward as their time in office elapses, and that each administration (excluding Reagan) has a notable uptick in their final months.

Economically Significant Final Rules by Presidential Year

This chart shows the economically significant final rules published by presidential year from 1981 through 2017. Years 1981 through 1992, 2001 through 2008, and 2017 were under Republican administrations. Years 1993 through 2000 and years 2009 through 2016 were under Democratic administrations. The number of economically significant final rules published in the following years are as follows. 1981, 1, 1982, 12, 1983, 27, 1984, 18, 1985, 23, 1986, 24, 1987, 25, 1988, 29, 1989, 26, 1990, 34, 1991, 55, 1992, 66, 1993, 45, 1994, 61, 1995, 34, 1996, 39, 1997, 37, 1998, 38, 1999, 35, 2000, 72, 2001, 36, 2002, 39, 2003, 47, 2004, 45, 2005, 41, 2006, 33, 2007, 44, 2008, 73, 2009, 51, 2010, 70, 2011, 54, 2012, 49, 2013, 54, 2014, 57, 2015, 61, 2016, 94, 2017, 19.

This graph presents the number of economically significant final rules published each presidential year. Economically significant rules are regulations issued by executive branch agencies that meet this definition in Executive Order 12866: “Have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more or adversely affect in a material way the economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State, local, or tribal governments or communities.”

We present numbers by “presidential year” (February 1st through January 31st) to understand priorities and activities during presidential terms.

Number of Final Major Rules Published by Presidential Year

Number of Final Major Rules Published by Presidential Year.

The Government Accountability Office reports on “major” rules published. The Congressional Review Act, passed in 1996, defines a major rule as “one that has resulted in or is likely to result in (1) an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more; (2) a major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, federal, state, or local government agencies, or geographic regions; or (3) significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, or innovation, or on the ability of the United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic and export markets.”

Number of Major Rules Published by Presidential Year

Data on the number of major rules published by presidential year from 1996 to 2019.


Our Reg Stats page contains helpful charts for assessing aggregate regulatory policy over time and across administrations. The concept of "midnight regulations" appears evident in this data with the number of annual major rules published by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

Related Content: 


Midnight in the Garden of Rules and Regulations

By: Susan E. Dudley -- Dec 2, 2020

Midnight regulation is upon us and it may be more chaotic than usual and not just because of Donald Trump’s personality. Since his presidency is ending after one term, his administrators may be more rushed than in previous transitions. On the other hand, career staff may hinder their efforts.


The Midnight Regulation Phenomenon

By: Susan E. Dudley -- Dec 2, 2020

There is a trend across administrations, regardless of party, to increase regulatory activity during this time period. There is also, unfortunately, a decrease in the quality of corresponding regulatory impact analysis.



Regulatory Reboot: Options for Revisiting Midnight Regulations

By: Susan E. Dudley -- Feb 23, 2016

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is bracing for the rush of regulatory activity that typically comes during the final year of a presidential administration. A government planning document lists 95 economically significant final regulations as priorities for President Obama’s final year in office. But according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service, any rule published after May 16 runs the risk of being summarily overturned in 2017.