How will Congress stop explosion of red tape?

Eight months ago, President Barack Obama signed with great fanfare an executive order directing federal departments and agencies to review federal regulations and repeal or cancel those that “stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.” It made for great White House public relations, but it didn’t stop the federal bureaucracy from churning out a record number of new regulations.

A new report from the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, provides concrete evidence of this regulatory surge: “The number of pages in the Federal Register is at an all-time high. Pages devoted to final rules rose by 20 percent between 2009 and 2010, and proposed rules have increased from 2,044 in 2009 to 2,439 in 2010.

“Further, of the 4,257 regulatory actions in the pipeline, 219 are considered economically significant, meaning they are estimated to impose a cost of $100 million or more on the economy. By comparison, that is 28 more than this time last year, and 47 more than in 2009. In total, the Obama administration has imposed 75 new major regulations costing over $38 billion annually.”

Every dollar spent and hour devoted to complying with this blizzard of new federal rules could have been more productively invested by businesses small and large, creating new jobs and economic opportunities for millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans.

But there are other costs associated with the red tape explosion, notably including the expansion of the number of federal bureaucrats. As the Issa panel reported, “employment at regulatory agencies has climbed 13 percent since President Obama took office, and the number of staff working on regulatory matters is on schedule to increase at a rate of 10,000 new regulatory employees per year in 2011 and 2012. The number of full-time regulatory employees is expected to reach an all-time high of 291,676 in 2012. Meanwhile, since President Obama took office, private sector jobs have declined by 5.6 percent.”

Since federal pay and benefits are significantly more generous than average compensation paid for comparable positions in the private sector, these thousands of new federal bureaucrats will require substantial additional spending under a government budget that is already swimming in red ink.
But wait, there is yet more bad news in this regard. The Issa panel concluded that today’s federal bureaucracy has “been a willing accomplice in the strategy advanced by outside interest groups to circumvent the oversight and accountability checks in the regulatory process. Essentially, regulatory agencies are avoiding meaningful scrutiny by employing numerous gimmicks such as:

  • Refusing to perform accurate cost-benefit analysis.
  • Overturning decades of precedent without justification.
  • Entering into sue and settleagreements.
  • Enacting policy changes throughguidance documents.
  • Improperly issuing emergencyrulemakings.”

The Issa committee deserves commendation for shining light on how the White House has used the federal bureaucracy to expand government control over the economy. The more important question now is what are congressional leaders going to do about it?

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