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Regulatory Delays Reach New Heights

June 28, 2016

Regulatory Delays Reach New Heights

Rules in 2015 and 2016 Suffered Historic Delays; OSHA’s Worker Protections Averaged More Than 12 Years to Complete, Public Citizen Report Shows

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s taking more time than ever for federal agencies to create and finalize new public protections, especially for the most important rules, according to a new report released today by Public Citizen. Cost-benefit analyses, extensive agency reviews, and advanced notice and comment periods are among the many reasons for these excessive delays, the report found.

The report, “Unsafe Delays,” was released at a regulatory briefing on Capitol Hill featuring U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) as keynote speakers, as well as leading advocates for public protections. The report analyzed more than 20 years of data from the federal government’s semi-annual Unified Agenda on federal regulations.

Among the major findings, economically significant rules finalized in 2015 took a record 3.4 years each to complete. Economically significant rules in 2016 have taken 3.8 years to complete, nearly 60 percent greater than the 2.4 years it takes on average to finish such rules.

“If the current trends in rulemaking length continue,” said Michael Tanglis, senior researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and lead author of the report, “a president’s ability to pass an economically significant regulation in one term may be in jeopardy.”

Despite the extraordinary time it now takes to create public protections, members of Congress have put forth numerous bills that would add additional steps to the process.

“Adding more steps to the regulatory process would only add to the already record-breaking delays,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “For the architects of the GOP’s regulatory agenda, that’s precisely the point.”

The report analyzed the effects of numerous factors that complicate the rulemaking process. Each of the following factors was associated with greater delays:

  • Rules deemed economically significant, which must undergo cost-benefit analysis and potentially lengthy reviews by the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, took 41 percent longer to complete than average.
  • Some rulemakings involve an additional stage known as “Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking” (ANPRM), where agencies alert the public they are considering developing a rule and solicit feedback. Economically significant rules that included an ANRPM took on average 4.4 years to complete, twice as long as rules without this step.
  • When rulemakings included an ANPRM and a Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (RFA), which consists of an intensive study of the proposed rule’s potential effects on small businesses, the average time to complete a rule ballooned to 4.7 years.

In addition, the report found that certain agencies are subject to extraordinary regulatory delays. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) took an average of 12.5 years to complete its economically significant rules. OSHA recently completed a standard to protect workers from unsafe exposure to silica dust, which the agency estimates will save more than 500 lives each year. Completion of that rule took more than 19 years and spanned three presidential administrations.