A Tumultuous Inaugural Week in Washington

Susan E. Dudley
by Susan E. Dudley, Director
January 18, 2017

Friday is Inauguration Day and things are busy here in Washington, DC. Venues are getting ready for inaugural festivities. Security is setting up around the parade route, and streets are closing as the city braces for the influx of people celebrating—and protesting—Donald Trump’s swearing in as the 45th President of the United States.

The U.S. prides itself on smooth transitions of power, but that doesn’t mean this week isn’t a tumultuous one. President Obama has until noon on Friday to cement his final legacy; then at 12:01 pm it will be President Trump’s turn to flex his muscle. Here’s a quick rundown of the policy changes the lead-up to January 20th has brought, and what to expect on Friday afternoon.

President Obama’s final hours

President Obama and his appointees have not been idle in the final weeks of his presidency. The President commuted the sentences of 209 people and pardoned 64 others yesterday. He also signed a new executive order defining criteria for civil service employment. He added three new national monuments last week and expanded two others. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is hiring new senior staff.

The well-known midnight rush to regulate is not quite over, though it is winding down. The table below provides a snapshot of the regulatory activity at the end of the Obama administration, with comparisons to the administrations of Presidents Clinton and Bush in their final days. Stay tuned for a deeper analysis in the coming weeks, when Sofie Miller and Daniel Pérez, who last spring used rigorous methods to analyze midnight regulatory activity, will report on how well their models predicted regulatory output in this administration.

This table shows that President Obama’s agencies have finalized a similar number of significant regulations to President Clinton’s after the 2000 election, but fewer than Clinton in the final few weeks. Those patterns also apply to economically significant rules (those with impacts of $100 million or more in a year, and according to Pérez’s recent analysis, sometimes more than $1 billion).  President Bush, whose chief of staff admonished regulatory agencies to avoid last-minute regulations, issued fewer significant regulations than the other two presidents after the 2008 election.

Measure

Clinton

Bush

Obama

Significant rules finalized between election & inauguration

138

98

133

>$100 million rules finalized between election & inauguration

34

30

35

Significant rules finalized in January before inauguration

70

20

33

>$100 million rules finalized in January before inauguration

17

7

10

President Trump’s first actions

If the previous transitions are any guide, one of the first items on the new administration’s agenda after the president is sworn in at noon on Friday is a memo that will be sent to all agencies directing them not to send regulations to the Federal Register until they are approved by incoming policy officials and to retrieve from the Federal Register all regulations not yet published. This directive will be operationalized by the “beach head teams,” set up at the executive departments and agencies and ready to act in the new president’s name.

These beach head teams will likely also withdraw some or all of the regulations pending review at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) (27 regulations are under review as of today. Fourteen of these are final actions). 

Also on the agenda for January 20th will be the revocation of a slew of President Obama’s executive orders, perhaps including the order signed yesterday, but almost certainly contentious orders, such as those addressing immigration and federal contractor wages.

Civil Servants have seen this before

While the thousands of federal officials who serve at the pleasure of the president will be out of a job as of noon on Friday, many more are career civil servants who will continue their jobs in the new Trump administration. Those who have been around for decades are accustomed to this frenetic transition period. The same people who have vigorously worked in these final days to put into effect the Obama team’s final policies, will return to work next week and set to the task of undoing those same actions while implementing the new Trump team’s directives.