Trump Regulatory Chief Hits Ground Running for 'Fundamental Shift'

Release of unified rules agenda shows savings compared with Obama's.

Nine days after she was confirmed by the Senate, President Trump’s regulatory chief presided over the release of a mandatory forecast of upcoming rule-making and touted savings from cutting red tape as of the administration’s six-month anniversary.  

Neomi Rao, a former George Mason University law professor, rolled out the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ semiannual Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions on Thursday after telling reporters that the preview is “the beginning of a kind of fundamental regulatory reform and a reorientation of where we’re going with regulation.”

The documents, required since 1978 as a preview of what rules agencies are planning for the near and long term, is intended by the Trump team as a “reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burden on the American people” in order to “promote economic growth and innovation and protect liberty,” the preamble said.

In hard numbers, the agenda already in Trump’s first five months produced “quantifiable annualized cost savings estimated at $22 million, compared to $6.8 billion in annualized costs due to rules finalized during last five months of fiscal year 2016,” the document said.  

In line with Trump’s executive order calling for two rules to be killed for everyone one introduced, agencies withdrew 469 actions proposed in the Obama administration’s fall 2016 uniform agenda, and “reconsidered 391 active actions by reclassifying them as long-term (282) and inactive (109), allowing for further careful review.”

Economically significant regulations (those impacting the economy at $100 million annually or greater) dropped from 58 percent to 50 percent since the Obama team’s tally. And for the first time, OIRA announced, agencies will post and make public their list of "inactive" rules, providing notice to the public of regulations still being reviewed or considered.

On Wednesday White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney previewed the unified agenda as a key part of “MAGAnomics” (for Make America Great Again). “In the first five months of this administration alone the net cost of our regulatory agenda has been less than zero dollars,” he said, noting that part of that rollback was achieved through Congress’ rare use of the Congressional Review Act passed in the 1990s. He said the administration is ahead of schedule on the two-for-one goal.

A preamble from each of 60 agencies or commissions explains the current general agenda, while a separate list links long-term actions to specific rules. As an example of a long-term action, the Housing and Urban Development Department is seeking new public comment on a rule requiring advance notice of adoption of energy efficiency standards for new construction of federally assisted housing.

The new agenda was welcomed by Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the free-market-oriented Competitive Enterprise Institute. “People who favor a slowdown in regulation are going to be pleased,” he told Government Executive, pointing to the number of regulatory actions expected in the next year. At 1,732, that number is a 20 percent drop from Obama’s final uniform agenda.

Trump’s raw numbers are “roughly in line with what you saw at a comparable time in the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations—a few thousand economically significant rules a year,” Crews said. But his center still needs to “tease through” the rules to see which ones have a deregulatory focus, and Trump’s “overall total number of rules is lower than Obama’s,” while the number of pages in the Federal Register is about a third as high as last year, Crews added.

Liberal-leaning groups, which have long opposed the Trump approach, were less enthusiastic. “The only winners from this unified agenda are the corporate interests whose deregulatory wish lists the administration has adopted wholesale,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division. “These rollbacks of critical public protections will leave American workers, consumers and children vulnerable on a daily basis to risks such as air and water pollution, unsafe products and tainted food, dangerous workplaces and a newly deregulated Wall Street that once again could threaten economic collapse.”