The Trump administration is accelerating plans to jettison hundreds of regulations spanning the entire government, but the process is off to a slow start and risks failing to match the White House's lofty goals for deregulation.
On Thursday, the White House's Office of Management and Budget is planning to release a list of rules it plans to weaken or eliminate. The list will note that 469 proposals that were in the works during the Obama administration have been scrapped, and another 391 have been slowed. The administration is not releasing a full list of which regulations it's targeting until Thursday, but they will run the gamut from significant policy measures to minor procedural measures, said Neomi Rao, who heads the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Proposals that are being scrapped are expected to be listed as “inactive” in the White House release.
“It’s really the beginning of fundamental regulatory reform and where we’re going with regulations,” Rao said.
OIRA is essentially the regulatory clearinghouse for the White House, with any new regulation coming to it first before it can be issued.
The list will be part of a semiannual report on the entire government’s regulatory agenda. Thursday will be the first edition of the report issued under President Trump.
Trump has said federal regulations are harming businesses and making it hard for them to hire and grow, and his advisers say cutting back on rules is a central part of his agenda. But some of the rules that he is moving to eliminate are ones the Obama administration pursued to boost consumer and environmental protection.
Trump has promised to jettison 80 percent of all federal regulations, a vow that likely means eliminating many thousands of existing policies across the federal government.
The White House’s list of proposed steps to deregulate will fall far short of that, but Rao said the process is expected to intensify even further later this year. Rao said federal agencies are more accustomed to adding new regulations and not stripping regulations away, and this new process is taking time to adopt.
She said she has asked OMB officials how many federal regulations there are and was told that it was impossible to get a precise number. Many regulations are required by federal law and can’t be unilaterally removed by the White House or regulators, but Trump and Congress have worked together to removed a number of regulations so far through a process authorized by the Congressional Review Act.
These deregulation moves by Congress and Trump, among other things, rolled back a gun safety rule and made it harder for the Federal Communications Commission to block Internet service providers from selling customer data.
Still, even after the release of the updated list on Thursday, it will be difficult to ascertain all of the regulations that are being pulled back. The updated agenda will have 1,732 regulations that are in the works — either short term or long term — a 20 percent reduction from the end of the Obama administration. But some of those regulatory moves could be efforts to weaken existing rules.
Part of this is a reflection that the process is much more complicated to eliminate rules than Trump suggested it would be during his presidential campaign, but he seems to be changing the process, albeit slowly.
“It's not easy,” said Ted Gayer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It's not nearly as easy as they thought coming in. I think Trump and his senior advisers thought, 'Well, hell, we’ll just delete some regulations.' It's not that easy. They are grasping and learning the process by which they can gum up regulations.”
Rao joined the White House from George Mason University, where she was a law professor who has called for abolishing the independence of federal agencies and subjecting regulations to White House review.
Trump has called for agencies to eliminate two regulations for every new one they plan to propose, but so far the agencies have far outpaced this standard. An OMB official said that in the past five months, agencies have sought to eliminate about 18 rules for every new one.
OMB provided a small list of regulations that the White House is moving to rewrite or eliminate. They include the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to repeal a 2015 rule that regulates hydraulic fracturing and an Environmental Protection Agency plan to regulate oil and gas development in parts of Utah.
Other deregulatory steps they plan to take include streamlining the Labor Department’s approval process for new apprenticeship programs and making it easier for rail companies to use different kinds of equipment as long as they meet public safety rules.
Trump has also said the federal government should do more to streamline the permitting process for development, as he believes this is causing big delays in construction and building.
Rao said they will put out a more comprehensive list of regulations they are looking to eliminate in a few months as they expect to pick up steam. Getting rid of rules, or weakening rules, must follow legal procedures that takes time.
“You are going to see a rollback of regulations,” Rao said. “What the magnitude is … I’m not sure what that percentage is. It’s pretty hard to say.”