January 8, 2016

Midnight Regulations and the Decrease of OIRA Staff

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This chart is an updated version from a previous chart published in 2012.

Every four years, the number of new federal regulations surges during the “midnight” period between presidential election day and Inauguration Day. This surge is seen when an incumbent president is reelected; however, it is considerably higher when there is a change in administration. Freed from many of the normal political constraints, administrations use the midnight period to enact sweeping and controversial regulations. Once finalized, regulations are difficult to repeal.

Agencies are required to conduct regulatory analysis for economically significant regulations, meaning those with an impact on the economy exceeding $100 million. Among other considerations, regulatory analysis compares the benefits and costs of regulatory alternatives to ensure efficient outcomes. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has been entrusted with the task of examining the quality of regulatory analysis that accompanies each new proposed regulation.

Compared with nonelection years, the number of economically significant regulations submitted for OIRA review more than doubles during midnight periods when control of the White House switches to a different party. The surge is rarely accompanied by an increase in OIRA’s budget or staff. In fact, OIRA’s staff has been roughly halved over the last three decades, from 90 to 45. The result is that OIRA can be overwhelmed during midnight periods, resulting in rushed, flawed oversight. The surge undermines the quality check that all proposed regulations are supposed to undergo. Low-quality analysis of new regulations results in the inefficient use of public resources to address society’s problems. The midnight rush makes it that much more difficult to separate the regulations with low-quality analysis and high costs.

(For the static chart, click here)

Learn more about Midnight Regulations

Find out more about Potential Midnight Regulations