Regulatory Studies Program

Regulatory Studies Program

The Regulatory Studies Program works to improve the state of knowledge about regulations and their effects on society. The program identifies market-based solutions that achieve regulatory goals, improving the overall performance of the regulatory process, and acts as a resource to scholars and students who share the goal of improving regulatory policy.


Jerry Ellig | Jul 06, 2016
Executive Order 12866, which governs regulatory analysis and review in the executive branch, requires federal agencies to conduct a regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for all economically significant regulations. (An “economically significant” regulation has economic effects of at least $100 million annually or satisfies other criteria listed in the executive order.) The purpose of this analysis is to understand the problem the regulation aims to solve, identify alternative solutions, and assess the benefits and costs of the alternatives, in order to create regulations that solve real problems at a reasonable cost. In 2009, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University initiated the Regulatory Report Card project to assess how well executive branch agencies conduct regulatory analysis. In a new study for the Mercatus Center, senior research fellow Jerry Ellig uses the data from this project to examine the quality of RIAs for all economically significant, prescriptive regulations proposed between 2008 and 2013. Report Card evaluations reveal that regulatory agencies often adopt regulations that affect several hundred million Americans and impose billions of dollars of costs without knowing whether the regulation will solve a significant problem, whether a more effective solution exists, or whether a more targeted solution could achieve the same result for a lower cost. Extensive statistical analysis of the scores suggests that institutional reforms are the most promising means of improving the quality and use of regulatory analysis.
Jerry Ellig, Michael Horney | Jun 21, 2016
When Congress passes legislation that mandates prescriptive regulations, legislators are under no obligation to understand the problem they are trying to solve, assess alternative solutions, or understand the benefits and costs of their choices. Passage of the positive train control mandate in response to several high-profile train accidents amply illustrates how haphazardly the legislative branch can authorize regulations. Congressional hearings and committee reports on the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 contain no analysis of the causes and extent of the safety problem, alternative solutions, and the benefits and costs of alternatives to this $12.5 billion mandate. Given that major regulations are often required by statute, the time has come for Congress to subject regulatory legislation to the same kind of analysis that presidents have required regulatory agencies to conduct for more than three decades.
Sherzod Abdukadirov, Scott King, David Wille | May 17, 2016
Over the past few years, the federal government and local governments have increasingly turned to “nudges” as solutions to many problems caused by behavioral biases. Such efforts often run into opposition owing to their paternalistic nature, but nonpaternalistic nudges can be equally effective at improving consumers’ choices. In contrast to paternalistic nudges, nonpaternalistic policies do not impose policymakers’ errors on consumers if policymakers misdiagnose the underlying behavioral bias, and they thus avoid harming consumers by pushing them toward suboptimal choices.
Stuart Shapiro, Laura Stanley | May 04, 2016
Since the early 1980s, federal regulatory agencies have produced regulatory impact analyses (RIAs) for major regulations that include an estimate of the expected benefits and costs of the regulation. While observers have both praised and criticized benefit-cost analysis (BCA) since it first became part of the regulatory process, very few have examined the question of what determines the effectiveness of the economists producing the analysis. When do decision makers listen to the economists, and when are the economists ignored?
Bentley Coffey, Patrick McLaughlin, Pietro Peretto | Apr 26, 2016
The impact of regulation on economic growth has been widely studied, but most research has focused on a narrow set of regulations, industries, or both. In order to better understand the cumulative cost of regulation, a comprehensive look at all regulations across many industries over a long period of time is imperative.
Eric Sun, Kelly Ferguson | Apr 20, 2016
In 2002, Congress passed the Medical Device User Fee and Modernization Act, with the aim of pushing the FDA to speed up the approval process for medical devices. This law levied large user fees on medical device manufacturers in exchange for the promise of shorter review times by the FDA. Whether the act has resulted in shorter review times has been unclear. This study conducted a regression analysis to address this question, using data on FDA review times for devices seeking approval between 1991 and 2012.

Testimony & Comments

Richard Williams | Aug 17, 2016
Federal regulations affecting food are intended primarily to protect public health by ensuring that food is safe. These regulations affect both the cost of growing and manufacturing food and the ever-changing makeup of the food supply. According to President Clinton’s Executive Order 12866, food safety regulations (like all regulations) must be based on “the best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical, economic and other information concerning the need for, and consequences of, the intended regulation.” Agencies are also legally responsible for ensuring that the science and analysis within these regulations satisfies quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity requirements. Yet far too often, federal food regulations conform to none of these requirements. As a result, food regulations cost far too much and accomplish far too little, far too often. My testimony today will touch on these problems with our current food regulation system. I will provide several examples of failed food safety regulations and explain why there are better approaches to solve food safety problems than regulations that try to anticipate every conceivable problem.
Patrick McLaughlin | Jul 07, 2016
Chairman Price, Ranking Member Van Hollen, and members of the committee: thank you for inviting me. As an economist and senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, my primary research focuses on the regulatory process—its strengths, its weaknesses, and proposals for improving it. One such proposal is the creation of a budget for regulations.
William Beach | Jul 06, 2016
The economic world changes most and for the good in economies where rivalrous economic behavior is allowed most to flourish, that is, in economies devoted to free enterprise. The flood of new economic knowledge that these swiftly changing economies produce generally results in higher-quality products for consumers at lower prices on average, as businesses compete with each other for the consumer’s dollars and strive to better serve consumer needs. Congress has no end to the number of things it has to do, as I experienced not long ago as a staffer. Near the top of its list of “to-dos” is the protection of this amazing process of value creation through innovation, discovery, and competition. We depend utterly on the private sector to produce nearly all of the material things we value. While the public sector is a necessary partner in this production through its provision of public goods (courts of justice, defense of the country, highways, and so forth), the betterment of the American people since 1900 is almost wholly the accomplishment of competition between entrepreneurs trying to obtain the consumer’s attention for their products or services.
Patrick McLaughlin | Jun 15, 2016
The Regulatory Studies Program of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is dedicated to advancing knowledge about the impact of regulation on society. As part of its mission, the program conducts careful and independent analyses that employ contemporary economic scholarship to assess regulations and their effects on the economic opportunities and the social well-being available to all members of American society.
John D. Graham | May 24, 2016
My name is John D. Graham, Dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and former administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget (2001–2006). In my capacity as editor of an article series organized by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and published in volume 37, issue 2 of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, I submit the attached articles as my written testimony for the Executive Overreach Task Force’s hearing on May 24, 2016, entitled “The Federal Government on Autopilot: Delegation of Regulatory Authority to an Unaccountable Bureaucracy.”…
Richard Williams, Michael L. Marlow, Edward Archer | Apr 12, 2016
The case examined here is the package of regulations that met the initial legal requirements provided by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA, Public Law 101-535). This act gave the FDA the authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods regulated by the Agency and to require that all nutrient content claims (e.g., “high fiber” or “low fat”) and health claims be consistent with agency regulations.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Speeches & Presentations

Jerry Ellig | Jun 20, 2015
In June 2015, the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board issued a report with recommendations to update and modernize economic regulation of rail freight transportation. Jerry Ellig served as a member of the committee that prepared the report. This presentation, given to the National Industrial Transportation League’s Railroad Transportation Committee in November 2015, summarizes the report’s main recommendations.
Jerry Ellig | Mar 20, 2014
Jerry Ellig's presents arguments for improved regulatory impact analysis at the College of Charleston.
James Broughel | Jan 30, 2014
Members of the Science Advisory Board (SAB), thank you for taking the time to hear to my comments this morning. Today’s topic—how to measure the impact of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on low-income and minority citizens in the United States—is both timely and important. At the research center where I work, we have begun to explore the consequences of regulations on vulnerable populations. I appreciate the opportunity to share some of our findings and to contribute to this important discussion.
Richard Williams | Jul 08, 2012
The United States system of ensuring food safety (FS) is more than 100 years old and, until very recently, was the primary system designed to ensure FS. The system assumes that primarily federal regulators have the necessary knowledge to instruct food manufacturers on producing safe food, with both federal and state governments enforcing their respective regulations. While there have been notable successes in the last century — such as mandatory pasteurization for milk and other products, low acid canned food rules, and basic sanitation requirements — much of this progress was achieved in the first half of the 20th century. In the last 30 years, the incidence of foodborne disease has changed very little.
Jerry Ellig | Jan 14, 2010
Jerry Ellig participated in panel discussion before Texas policy makers in Austin, Texas at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Policy Orientation on the future of the Texas Public Utility…
Jerry Ellig | Nov 05, 2009
Jerry Ellig was invited to give a lecture at Pepperdine University about the future of regulations in the federal government.

Mercatus Regulatory Studies


Richard Williams | Jul 15, 2016
The US FDA receives funding through the general fund and user fees. Additional funding comes from the regulated industries. Specifically, the drug industry funds FDA through the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), and the medical device industry funds FDA through the Medical Device User Fee Act (MDUFDA). Both acts are considered a success for requiring FDA to improve approval time for drugs and devices. However, decreased approval times have not resulted in more drug and device innovation.



Richard Williams | May 31, 2016
Richard Williams talked about his concerns with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) redesign of food nutrition labels. He assisted in the creation of the original label, which he says was not able to change consumers' eating habits.


Patrick McLaughlin | June 07, 2016
Patrick McLaughlin talks to host Bill Sayre at CommonSense Radio about the cost and effects of regulatory accumulation.

Recent Events

Jerry Ellig, Ted Gayer, Keith Hall, John Leeth, Patrick McLaughlin, Matthew Mitchell, Hester Peirce, Richard Williams, | November 13, 2012
Please join the Mercatus Center at George Mason University for a series of discussions grounded in academic research and practical experience on how and why the current regulatory process falls short of its purpose—and what can be done to improve regulation in the future.


Jerry Brito, Andrea Castillo | May 03, 2016
As the world’s first decentralized digital currency, Bitcoin has the potential to revolutionize online payment systems and commerce in ways that benefit both consumers and businesses. Individuals can now avoid using an intermediary such as PayPal or submitting credit card information to a third party for verification—both of which often involve transaction fees, restrictions, and security risks—and instead use bitcoins to pay each other directly for goods or services.
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