While determining the annual costs and benefits of federal regulation to industry and to the public has become something of a Washington parlor game, not as much attention is paid to how much the federal government expends in staff time and funds to develop and implement regulations.
The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a market-based institution that tracks issues of regulatory policy and expenditures, and the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis, which has been assessing agency budgets since 1977, recently issued a report that estimates how much of agency budgets and staffing goes to writing and enforcing regulations, to get a sense of the robustness of the rulemaking establishment.
Contrary to assumptions that there would be a shrinking of the regulatory state under a Republican administration, the report calculates that there have been increases in spending and staffing at some of the 68 federal departments and agencies. It estimates agency outlays devoted to regulation will be $41.4 billion in fiscal 2006, which starts Oct. 1, a 4.8 percent increase from the $39.5 billion estimate for fiscal 2005. Staffing will increase to 242,376 from 240,838 in 2005, or less than a 1 percent increase.
"Tracking the budgets and staffing of regulatory agencies gives us an indirect measure of the size and growth in regulations with which American businesses, workers, and consumers must comply," said Susan E. Dudley, director of the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus center, which is funded by corporations, foundations and individuals.
"It sounds like garbage in, garbage out," Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, said of the Mercatus/Weidenbaum report. "Those numbers are meaningless. There is no line item in the budget called writing, administering and enforcing regulations. They try to come up with measures to show regulation continues to grow. Even if the numbers are correct, as the population and the economy expands, you would expect more regulation and enforcement."
Bass said agencies responsible for the environment, civil rights and health and safety are not increasing staff devoted to enforcement.
Much of the regulatory budget is spent on what is known as social regulation -- health, safety, environmental, energy and homeland security activity, the report said. The administration's 2006 budget request for all social regulation rules is calculated at $34.8 billion.
The biggest chunk of that will go to the Department of Homeland Security, whose regulatory budget is expected to grow to $18 billion in 2006, a 6.5 percent increase from the previous year and a doubling since 2001. Meanwhile, budgets at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration are expected to decline.
"Ten Thousand Commandments," an annual report by Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, measures the regulatory bureaucracy by counting the number of pages and rules in the Federal Register.
It found a record number of pages, 75,676, were published in 2004, a 6.2 percent increase from a year earlier. But the 4,101 final rules issued by agencies declined by 1 percent.
Five agencies account for almost half the rules currently in the pipeline: the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.