The Growing Threat Of "Dark Matter" Regulations
Civics books say the U.S. is a representative democracy. But the truth is that it's increasingly becoming a regulatory dictatorship, a trend made clear in a disturbing new report on the scale of federal rules.
In his seven years in office, President Obama has signed 895 bills into law. Over the same period, federal regulators issued 24,478 rules. If you want an example of how unaccountable the federal government has become, it doesn't get much better than that.
The regulatory state is so massive that the government doesn't even know how many regulatory agencies there are. Counts range from a low of 60 to a high of 438.
But this is just the tip of the regulatory iceberg, according to a report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute titled "Mapping Washington's Lawlessness."
Author Clyde Wayne Crews found that, in addition to the pile of formal rules — which are supposed to, but often don't, undergo various public, congressional and executive reviews before enactment — agencies issue thousands of guidance documents, bulletins, letters and even blog posts.
Despite their potential impact, these don't come under any scrutiny whatsoever. In addition, the president can issue executive orders and executive memoranda that can have sweeping effects.
Crews calls this "regulatory dark matter," because, like celestial dark matter, it's "hard to detect, much less measure." But there's no doubt there is a lot of it. One analysis found that the complete set of FAA rules would measure 2 inches thick. But FAA guidance documents total 40 feet.
Under Obama, regulatory guidance documents were used to make politically expedient changes to Obama-Care and turn most independent contractors into employees. More than 1,400 directives target the financial industry — 49 from the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Congress is as much to blame for this terrible state of affairs as anyone. Both because they write laws that hand vast powers over to regulators and because, as Crews notes, they rarely use their oversight authority to rein regulators in.
This has to change, and fast, if the nation is to avoid becoming ruled entirely by unelected and unaccountable Washington bureaucrats.