Toward a Federal Regulatory Budget The Pitfalls in Quantifying Regulatory Costs and How to Avoid Them

In today’s overreaching administrative state, regulatory burdens increase while benefits grow more ambiguous. Instead, it is the out-of-control regulatory system itself that needs to be regulated. But we lack any bipartisan “unified theory” for doing so. Yet, as the American economy remains idle, circumstances may force spenders and regulators to back down.

Regulatory liberalization, as opposed to tinkering, will require an unprecedented relinquishing of power by agencies and legislators. With or without a quantitative regulatory budget, effective regulatory reforms must ultimately come through institutional changes that tightly specify the purpose and reach of delegated regulatory power, and of legislative power itself. Once such control is established, a budget can help keep the regulatory state in check, serving the public rather than bureaucratic and special interests.

Policy makers, scholars, and other observers already rely on the few government estimates of regulatory costs that exist, such as the Office of Management and Budget’s annual Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and the Government Accountability Office’s reports to Congress in compliance with the Congressional Accountability Act. If disclosure improves on those, and incorporates so-called guidance documents, the information will inevitably become an important part of the policy landscape. As of today, we could do far worse than allocating regulatory authority among agencies in accordance to where an accountable Congress believes benefits lie.

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