Federal agencies missed half their congressional deadlines

WASHINGTON (Aug. 4, 2015) – Federal agencies over the past two decades have a less than 50 percent success rate in complying with congressional rulemaking deadlines, according to a new study released today by the R Street Institute.

In his analysis of Office of Management and Budget data compiled since 1996, R Street Associate Fellow Scott Atherley found that two of the strongest reasons for missed deadlines were unrealistic guidelines set by Congress and a lack of consequences for agencies that fail to comply.

“Congress often is the only party to suffer any form of harm from a neglected deadline, yet cannot in practice sue the agency in question,” Atherley wrote. “If no party has standing to sue over an unmet deadline, legal recourse is extremely difficult to achieve. Congress’ only option is to pass another law.”

Atherley notes that agency deadlines set by the courts have a much higher success rate, at almost 80 percent, suggesting that agencies treat court-ordered deadlines as higher priorities than deadlines developed by Congress. Oversight of judicial deadlines frequently is conducted by the outside groups who brought suit.

In order to improve agency compliance with statutory deadlines, more detailed information regarding agencies’ progress in meeting statutory regulatory deadlines needs to be recorded and made available.

“The analysis is limited by the lack of detailed data linking statutory directives to specific required actions,” wrote Atherley. “Congress cannot monitor federal agencies effectively without a system dedicated to tracking directives and following up to evaluate agency responsiveness.”

Reporting requirements could be updated to include more detail, such as recording the precise action required by Congress. Policymakers would benefit from a database in which agencies record regulatory milestones as they complete them, the paper contend.

Additionally, Atherley argues that Congress would benefit greatly from an organization or office devoted to legislative engagement with the regulatory process. Atherley also noted that Congress would benefit from an institution empowered to litigate on its behalf.

“A Congressional Regulatory Affairs Office tasked with making and tracking requests of federal agencies could save time and effort for both congressmen and agency officials,” he wrote. “There are likely large numbers of unnecessarily complex, duplicative or unclear requests issued from legislators to civil servants.”

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