Midnight Regulations

Midnight Regulations

The phenomenon of midnight regulations refers to the surge of regulatory activity at the end of every presidential administration. This surge often includes sweeping and controversial regulations that are hard to repeal once approved. During this period, the quality of the agencies’ regulatory analysis drops and regulatory oversight by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) weakens. This page aggregates Mercatus research on this topic as well as the supporting data from Mercatus Regulatory Report Cards.

A list of potential midnight regulations is available.


Omar Ahmad Al-Ubaydli, Patrick McLaughlin | Nov 12, 2014
RegData is a new database that quantifies federal regulation. It analyzes the text of federal regulations to create novel and objective measures of the accumulation of regulations in the economy overall and across different industries in the United States. In addition, RegData measures the degree to which different groups of regulations, such as those from a particular agency, target specific industries.
Sherzod Abdukadirov | Nov 08, 2012
This paper examines whether political motivation plays a role in the timing of some midnight regulations. It further examines whether political motivation has a negative impact on the analytical quality of midnight regulations. In contrast to other studies that focus on the overall regulatory activity using proxies, this paper concentrates on a detailed analysis of three regulations issued in the final days of the Bush administration.
Jerry Ellig | Aug 28, 2012
The midnight regulation phenomenon is not new or limited to one political party. New research suggests that midnight regulations proposed during the second half of a presidential election year are more likely to have lower-quality regulatory analysis and less likely to use the results of analysis to inform decisions. Thus, these regulations may be particularly costly or ineffective.
Sherzod Abdukadirov | Jul 17, 2012
Administrations face fewer political constraints during the midnight period and, thus, take the opportunity to impose their policy preferences. These rushed, politically motivated regulations have poor quality analysis and face less stringent oversight from OIRA. Stemming the surge of midnight regulations requires comprehensive reform to constrain agencies’ ability to issue too many regulations and improve OIRA’s ability to oversee regulatory quality during the midnight period.
Patrick McLaughlin | Mar 10, 2011
Is the midnight regulations phenomenon real and what are its consequences? This paper finds that when an administration’s time is almost up, submissions of economically significant regulations nearly double. Such surges in regulatory activity decrease the duration of regulatory review at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), likely because of political pressure to quickly approve new rules. Specifically, one additional economically significant regulation submitted to OIRA decreases the mean review time for all regulations by about two thirds of a day. If OIRA review improves regulation quality, then regulatory surges that decrease review time could hinder such improvement.
Patrick McLaughlin, Jerry Ellig | Nov 08, 2010
Most federal agencies must conduct economic analysis when proposing major regulations. This paper uses a new dataset scoring the quality of analysis that accompanied proposed regulations in 2008.

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Mercatus Regulatory Studies


The phenomenon known as “midnight regulation”—a surge of regulation that occurs at the end of presidential terms between Election Day and Inauguration Day—is well documented. The Obama administration could issue 50 or more midnight regulations before the president leaves office. One major concern with midnight regulations is that they will be ineffective or excessively costly, because they are not thought through as carefully as other regulations.



Patrick McLaughlin | July 18, 2012
Patrick McLaughlin discusses the effects of midnight regulations in this Capitol Hill Campus event podcast.

Recent Events

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University invites you to a Regulation University presentation with Dr. Jerry Ellig, senior research fellow, on what causes regulatory “decision-making in the dark” today.


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