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.
The Industry-specific Regulatory Constraint Database (IRCD) is a new database that quantifies federal regulation. IRCD offers a novel and objective measure of the accumulation of regulations in the economy overall and for all the different industries in the U.S. IRCD uses text analysis to count the number of binding constraints in the text of federal regulations, which are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In addition, it measures the degree to which different groups of regulations target specific industries.
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.
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.
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.