Owens: Stop last-minute adoption of rules

Charles Owens

Lots of government agencies are watching the clock this year, working to get new rules and regulations approved before the occupant in the White House changes early next year. The lame-duck rush to regulate has become a Washington ritual with its own name — midnight regulations.

It’s not a partisan tactic either. The Clinton and Bush administrations saw a flurry of regulatory activity in the months after Election Day. The number of economically significant regulations passed in a given year nearly doubled when the presidency passed between the parties in 1992, 2000 and 2008.

It’s still early in the year, but it doesn’t look like the Obama administration will be any exception. The non-partisan Mercatus Center at George Mason University has identified at least 50 rules or regulations that are about to come in under the wire.

The administration is already starting to cut corners to meet the deadline. The Department of Labor’s rule for mandatory paid sick leave for federal contractors was recently put out for public comment. Despite the fact that the rule is 286 pages long, the comment period was cut in half down to 30 days from the typical 60 days.

Now to some that might not seem like a big deal, but these type of shortcuts lead to quantifiably worse regulations. The Mercatus Center created a report card to evaluate the quality of rules. They judged rules based on their openness, analysis, and use. When the researchers looked at rules that came out in 2008, they put them into three categories: not midnight, all midnight, and rushed midnight. For each progressively more rushed rule, the quality of the regulation went down.

This is the kind of thing that keeps a small business owner up at night. While larger businesses often have staff dedicated to keeping up with the latest federal regulatory missives, small businesses do not and struggle to keep up with the deluge of new rules and requirements.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) supports legislation introduced in the House and Senate to end these last minute, quantifiably worse regulations. The Midnight Rule Relief Act, S. 2582 and H.R. 4612, sponsored by Michigan’s Rep. Tim Walberg, would put a moratorium on new rules and regulations beginning on the day after Election Day and running through the inauguration of the new president. This legislation would prevent future lame-duck presidents of either party from slipping new red tape in at the last minute.

Sloppy regulations do lasting damage. While bureaucrats may be careless about crafting new rules, small businesses can’t be careless in following them. NFIB research shows that burdensome rules and regulations consistently ranks as one of the top three challenges facing small business owners. If we want them to thrive and grow and create jobs, then they need to spend more time focused on their business and less time grappling with paperwork and compliance. It’s time to put a hard stop on midnight regulations. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right and on time.

Charles Owens is the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, Michigan Chapter.