Donald J. Trump, Deregulator-in-Chief

Economic growth began to pick up as soon as Donald Trump was elected president, and has continued throughout his first year in office; although anticipation of the tax cut passed at the very end of 2017 no doubt helped increase optimism about the economy, it is generally agreed that the President himself contributed largely to the result through his deregulatory efforts. News articles or segments dealing with the topic, however, rarely go into detail, in part, no doubt, because the regulations often deal with obscure matters which are difficult to understand; below a brief attempt is made to supply some facts and to give an honest assessment of the deregulatory efforts of the Trump Administration thus far.

Shortly after entering office President Trump signed two executive orders relating to Fiscal Year 2017: the first directed agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new one (EO 13771, 30 Jan. 2017), and the second provided for the appointment of new regulatory reform officers and regulatory reform task forces within agencies (EO 13777, 24 Feb. 2017). It has been widely reported that the two-for-one requirement was dramatically exceeded, and that agencies in fact achieved a ratio of 22-to-1in their deregulatory and regulatory actions; this figure goes back to a status report of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (part of the Office of Management and Budget) covering the first 8 months of the Trump Administration, i.e., the remainder of FY 2017, which lists 67 deregulatory vs. 3 regulatory actions, and calculates a savings of $8.1 billion in regulatory costs over time ($570.4 million per year); it may be noted that not all of the 67 deregulatory actions are instances of repeal: some are explicitly termed a “delay,” and most are not classified as to their nature; a ratio comparing regulations repealed to regulations finalized, corresponding closely to the executive order, seems not to have been published. Under the “Current Regulatory Plan,” according to the OIRA, “agencies plan to finalize three deregulatory actions for every new regulatory action in FY2018.” The Trump Administration emphasized its success in stopping proposed regulations: in the spring and fall of 2017 in total 1,579 planned regulatory actions were withdrawn (635) or delayed (944) before going into effect; the delayed actions in turn consist of both “long term” (700) regulations which are still under development, but not expected to be proposed within the next year, and “inactive” (244) regulations which are dormant. The novelty of the deregulatory exertions is underscored by the circumstance that the Administration had to upgrade the federal regulatory database so that it identifies regulations as net regulatory or net deregulatory (,

Critics of these claims have not seriously disputed the projected cost-savings, since the OMB used established methods in making those calculations. Dan Bosch and Dan Goldbeck at American Action Forum calculate that the 274 regulations finalized in 2017 imposed total costs of $30.6 billion, and that of this amount, $24.8 billion was due to rules published during the period 3-19 January, whereas $5.8 billion was due to rules published after President Trump took office; thus the Trump Administration imposed considerably less cost over more than 11 months than the Obama Administration did in fewer than 3 weeks. Bosch and Goldbeck also found that the executive agencies, directly controlled by the Administration, actually saved over $900 million, while independent agencies, the rule-making of which is not reviewed by the White House, imposed costs of $6.7 billion; thus the other main goal set out in the first of the executive orders, i.e., reducing net regulatory costs to zero through the end of the fiscal year, was more than met (

The figure of 67 deregulatory actions, however, has been deemed misleading; the list seemed padded to some critics since 22 of the actions were initiated under the Obama Administration, their finalization under the Trump Administration being a consequence of the circumstance that federal law makes the revision of regulations a lengthy process; a more glaring instance of padding is counting a short delay, from 12 May to 14 August, in an EPA rule requiring reporting and record-keeping by importers, manufacturers and processors of nanoscale materials (particles used in pharmaceuticals, electronics, and otherwise), especially since its going into effect was not counted as regulatory (similarly, the 700 proposed rules being classified now as “long term” are counted as deregulatory actions, but they could and would be canceled out later, whenever the rule in question becomes “proposed” rather than being made “inactive” or withdrawn); an equally legitimate criticism of the list of 67 deregulatory actions is that one of them, since it involved two departments, Homeland Security and Labor, is counted twice: an increase, for FY 2017, in the cap on seasonal non-agricultural guest workers under the H-2B visa program (from 66,000 to 81,000); furthermore, one can object to the inclusion in the list at all of the action loosening the cap on the guest workers, since new requirements were imposed on businesses participating in the expanded visa program.

Some of the criticism of the claimed deregulation, however, is itself overblown. One of the 67 actions (“Repeal of Regulations Governing the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program”, listed under the Department of Commerce) concerned a grant program supporting the construction of public television and radio stations, which had not been funded since 2011 since money was available from other sources; the charge is that the move did not benefit business and therefore should not be touted. Similarly, in Oct. 2017 (in the new fiscal year) the EPA withdrew a proposed rule, dating to 2007 and aimed at preventing the spread of BSE (“mad-cow disease”), which would have prohibited the use of bovine byproducts in the manufacture of drugs; the charge is that the cattle industry is not positively affected, since other preventive measures have been taken in the meantime. But the actions deserve to be included in the list, since the Administration is not only endeavoring to eliminate regulations which are burdensome to business, but any regulation which is unlawful, unnecessary, duplicative, ineffective or obsolete (

It is true that the deregulatory effort thus far, quantitatively speaking, has been far more successful with regard to pending regulations than with regard to existing regulations, but the modest gains made in the latter area are still comparatively impressive, especially the use made of resolutions of disapproval, the process established by the Congressional Review Act (1996): although just 15 existing rules were so repealed, only one such resolution (March 2001) had ever been passed previously. Under the terms of the CRA the resolutions have to be passed within 60 legislative days after Congress is notified of the rule, so its usefulness in repealing Obama-Era rules is past, unless it could be exploited by the Trump Administration or Congress to withdraw or disapprove existing rules which were never submitted to the Congress for review; as it is, the total cost savings of the 15 resolutions which were passed amounts to about $4 billion (

Some of the most significant deregulatory actions of 2017, qualitatively speaking, came in the last three months of the year (i.e., in the new fiscal year). On 16 October the EPA proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, estimated to cost $7.2 billion annually, on the ground that the agency had exceeded its statutory authority in devising its global-warming-remedy; on 22 November the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to delay for two years implementation of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, in order to reconsider the definition of “Waters of the United States”; on 14 December the Federal Communications Commission reversed, by a vote of 3-2, the 2015 Open Internet Order (“net neutrality rule”); the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, passed by both houses of Congress on 20 December and signed by the President on 22 December, abolished the financial penalties pursuant to the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act (

Arguably the greatest success of the new Administration on the deregulatory front has been a marked slowing of the pace at which new rules are promulgated. Bosch and Goldbeck calculated that the Obama Administration in January proposed rules which would impose lifetime regulatory costs of more than $111 billion, whereas the Trump Administration over the rest of the year proposed rules which would reduce lifetime regulatory costs by more than $53 billion; again, that agencies over the course of the year proposed 4.5 million additional paperwork-burden hours, 2.9 million under the Obama Administration and 1.6 million under the Trump Administration; while noting that only “time will tell” whether 2017 was an aberration, in their judgment “2017 marked a sea change in the regulatory paradigm.” Clyde Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute likewise judged that President Trump “did about as well as could be expected given the need to act alone apart from the CRA.”

An imperfect, but nevertheless telling guide to the regulatory activity of the federal government is the number of pages published annually in the Federal Register (a record of rules and other authoritative documents published daily by the federal government), which ran to p. 61,950 in calendar-year 2017; in calendar-year 2016, by contrast, it had run to p. 97,110. The number of pages in the Federal Register is only a rough measure of the regulatory burden in part because rules vary widely in their size as well as in the costs which they impose, a lengthy rule being potentially less onerous than a short one; furthermore, as Crews pointed out, one must also take into consideration that the elimination of a rule requires the issuance of another rule, so that “the Federal Register and rule counts can both grow even in a deregulatory environment.” Although the counting of deregulatory rules as rules therefore runs the risk of overstating regulatory activity to a certain extent, the focus on rules at the same time understates regulatory activity to a certain extent, since there are in addition to rules what Crews called “various forms of regulatory dark matter (guidance documents, memoranda, notices, letters, and other proclamations).” Nevertheless, the page-count is useful, as Crews stated, since “Washington doesn’t go out of its way to honestly measure itself and disclose regulatory impact.” The Office of the Federal Register has not yet published for 2017 the actual total number of pages, i.e., the notional total minus blank pages and skips, but in the last several years the actual total has been running 1,000-1,200 pages lower than the notional total, so the actual total for 2017 should prove to be either the lowest since, or lower than, the actual total for 1993, when 61,166 pages were necessary. The drop in the number of pages in 2017 measured 36.2%, a decline exceeded only once in the 82 years since the Federal Register began publication in 1936, namely, in the year 1947, when a decrease of 39.6% from the previous year was achieved; in the switchover from Carter to Reagan in 1980-1981, by contrast, the decline was only 21.2%, and in that from Clinton to Bush in 2000-2001, just 13.2% (,

In sum, it seems that the Trump Administration in its deregulatory efforts is off to a good start, and that conservatives, in that respect, can be both happy about the past year and encouraged about the future one; it is regrettable that Republicans in Congress have shown so little interest in working with Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the OMB, to restrain federal spending and reduce the federal workforce, since a smaller federal government will create fewer problems than a larger one, and fewer bureaucrats means less bureaucracy.