Regulation deadlines created by Congress are meaningless, report says
A new study by R Street, a D.C.-based libertarian think tank, analyzed every regulatory deadline mandated in law by Congress in the last 20 years. Agencies blew through 1,400 required deadlines of the 2,684 that had specific dates attached, according to the research. That’s a less than 50 percent success rate.
Why doesn’t Congress enforce its own deadlines? For one, no one is really checking. And, although it’s the law, there’s not much Congress can do beside sending strongly-worded letters and berating officials at public hearings.
“Congress puts things in laws and then washes it’s hands of it. There’s no system for tracking how many deadlines have been given to agencies, there’s no spreadsheet where they could even keep track of it to know if someone has been late or not late,” said Kevin Kosar, R Street’s governance project director. “They just put the number in there and whatever happens, happens.”
Some regulations that went way over schedule? A 1992 law required new pipeline safety regulations by 1995. There wasn’t even a public meeting on it until 2005. Federal regulations for catfish inspections, vending machine foods, and hazard material transportation all came in way after deadline. Kosar points to one slow to finish regulation on commercial fishing to reduce accidental deaths of bottlenose dolphins.
Many fans of smaller government would probably cheer the slow pace of creating more government regulations. But government’s inaction and dysfunction has consequences. Just the mere threat of a regulation can affect businesses, and the uncertainty of when and how it will be implemented makes it difficult to plan ahead.
“It’s not a healthy long-term habit,” Kosar told the Loop. “I don’t know anyone who would want to work for a boss that gives them random deadlines and then doesn’t pay attention to whether you meet them …it’s operational chaos.”
Solution? For Kosar – who used to work at the Congressional Research Office before quitting and penning a long Washington Monthly article about Capitol Hill dysfunction and its impact on nonpartisan research – it’s ironically more government.
He’s a proponent of a Congressional Regulatory Office, an idea that’s been tossed around for years to no avail.
But as difficult as it is to get rid of an existing federal program, it’s just as challenging to start a new one. Kosar conceded that the “optics” of a creating a new government bureaucracy isn’t a great political selling point, especially when it would require funding.