When it comes to federal regulations, I find the “it shouldn’t be this complicated!” argument to be flawed. Of course it’s going to be complicated—the federal government regulates activity concerning 50 states, a military, a rambunctious federal District, and foreign relations. They’ve got a lot going on; hence, the rule making can’t really be confined to a few bullet points.

That being said, at some point, you have to turn off the spigot and get serious about just how many rules and regulations the federal government should be allowed to throw at the American people.

Earlier this year the Mercatus Center, a free-market economic think tank at George Mason University, created an infographic to illustrate just how ridiculous the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) has become—and why they had to create a computer program just to read all of it. Take a look:


5000 hours of reading; 25 miles of paper; it’s longer than Game of Thrones, which should probably be against the law. That’s why Mercatus invented “RegData,” a computer program that “reads” and parses out the literal library of federal regulations. Mercatus explains how this program has helped their scholars wrap their brains around a body of law that is, for all practical purposes, impossible to actually read and understand:

RegData’s programs, on the other hand, have not only read the 2012 CFR, but also the entire CFR published in each year from 1997 through 2012. This allows us to see how regulation has changed over time—which agencies have grown or shrunk, which industries are targeted more or less, and how major acts of Congress affect the rate of producing regulations. Before RegData’s creation, any attempts to answer these questions were simply . . . fantasy.

This is huge. Reading and understanding is the first step to educating and advocating for change—but what rules can we do without?

Like it or not, the federal government exists for a reason, and in order to do its job, needs a guidebook. Some members of Congress, however, are taking the opportunity to fire away at old, outdated, and unnecessary regulations—even if it’s unlikely the White House and the agencies will be willing to play ball:

Enter Congress, where the general of the war on regulation is Sen. Angus King, (I-ME), who’s pessimistic that the solution will come from the White House and the agencies. “You’re asking the people who are doing the regulating to regulate themselves,” he said, “and I’m not sure that’s going to produce results.”

Now King is trying to rally support for Congress to tackle it. In March, King and Senator Roy Blount (R-MO) reintroduced legislation that would create an independent commission charged with weeding out unnecessary regulations. The Regulatory Improvement Act, as it’s called, is similar to steps King took as governor of Maine in the 1990s to streamline the regulatory process. The law would create a Regulatory Improvement Commission, which would provide Congress with a list of regulations to cut, similar to the way the Base Closure and Realignment Commission is used to identify military installations to eliminate.

The Regulatory Improvement Act did not make it past subcommittee hearings when King first introduced it in 2013, but King is optimistic that it will fare better this time around. He and Blount have added two new cosponsors this time around, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS).

He says the leadership of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has expressed “openness” to considering the issue, and there’s a companion bill circulating in the House that has the support of 14 members—7 Democrats and 7 Republicans.

King, who caucuses with the Democrats, is sensitive to the ideological dimensions of regulatory reform. “Somebody can fly under the flag of regulation reform when what they really want to do is wipe out an agency,” he says.

But what rules can we really do without? Separating truly ineffective regulations from ones that are just ideologically unsavory is the hard part. Republicans and Democrats each have their own ideas about what makes a bad regulation. Beyond the politics of specific regulations, the size of the federal code is an obstacle unto itself.

It’s a problem that now has a solution. With programs like RegData, we can answer the “which regulations really need to go” conundrum with actual data. We can create timelines to show voters and their representatives how agencies have changed, bloated, and become waterlogged over time.

Regulations may come along with fiscal incentives, but I’d be willing to bet that slapping a few examples of decades of government waste into a slick viral graphic could start to create a groundswell of electoral incentive to be a lot more discriminating when it comes to letting hyperregulation at the agencies slide.

It’s groundbreaking work, and it’s something that even activists can use to educate voters about why free-market, small government policies are better for the country.


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