Government report finds regulations have spiked under Obama

The number of regulations from Washington has spiked since President Obama took office, according to a new government report.

The Obama administration published more “major” final rules in its first term than the George W. Bush administration did in its second, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

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At the same time, the Obama White House’s review period for pending regulations was longer in 2012 than any point going back to at least to 1994, according to the report from the CRS, Congress’s research arm. 

From 2009 through last year, there were more than 13,000 final rules published in the Federal Register, while fewer than 12,400 were finalized from 2005-2008, the report found. That’s an increase of nearly five percent.

Because presidential terms don’t begin until late January, a small number of the 2009 rules might be regulations from the last days of the Bush administration.

The recent spike shows a heavy output of regulations in the first three years of the Obama administration, followed by a drop last year. In fact, 2012 included the fewest finalized rules — 2,482 — of any year dating back a decade and a half, the report found.

The Obama administration has come under fire for its aggressive regulatory policies, with congressional Republicans complaining that the wave of new rules is costing businesses and amounts to executive overreach. 

A report issued last week by the conservative Heritage Foundation placed the price tag of Obama’s first-term regulations at $70 billion.

But the White House has maintained that the benefits of new regulations finalized during the Bush and Obama administrations total upward of $800 billion, far outweighing the expense of implementing them. 

The CRS report noted that many of the items published every day in the Federal Register are routine items, including minor corrections, meeting announcements and other technical notices that require public disclosure. 

However, the Obama administration also finalized 330 “major” rules, generally those that carry an annual economic impact of $100 million or more. There were 266 such rules published from 2005-2009, the research agency found. 

The report also looked at the length of time rules remain under review at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) before they are finalized. 

Advocates of health and safety protections have complained that some rules have languished at the office for too long.

Under the law, OIRA has 90 calendar days in which to review proposed or final rules.

“However, there are no consequences in the order if OIRA fails to meet the deadline for review,” the CRS report concluded.

Last year, the process took an average of 79 days, more than twice as long as it took three years earlier. OIRA has been without an administrator since August. 

Obama has nominated economist and attorney Howard Shelanski to fill the vacancy, though his confirmation hearings have yet to begin.

— Published at 2:09 p.m. and updated at 8:15 p.m.