How many US federal agencies are there?

From the Wall Street Journal on the extent of the red tape problem in the United States:

[President Trump]¬†will need every bit of political skill he can muster if he wants to provide emergency relief to citizens caught in another blizzard that is emanating daily from Washington. According to a report out today from the indispensable Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, on top of the thousands of rules the federal government churns out, the feds have also been issuing nearly 25,000 “notices” every year telling Americans what to do in the absence of any new law or regulation. Mr. Crews also finds that not even federal agencies can agree on how many federal agencies there are. Estimates range from 61 to 443. The United States Government Manual guesses there are 316. It seems that our government has forgotten more of its departments than some countries will ever know.

Yesterday we mentioned Mr. Trump’s plan to reorganize the government. He’s giving his budget director Mick Mulvaney a year to produce a plan to cut agencies that are redundant, fail to provide public benefits worth the cost or “would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise.”

This might seem like a hopeless effort, like so many previous initiatives dedicated to fighting Beltway waste, fraud and abuse. What makes this effort more intriguing is that Mr. Trump has nominated to the Supreme Court a judge who actually cares about this stuff and even seems to understand the problem.

“Executive agencies today are permitted not only to enforce legislation but to revise and reshape it through the exercise of so-called ‘delegated’ legislative authority,” wrote Judge Neil Gorsuch in a 2016 opinion. “The number of formal rules these agencies have issued thanks to their delegated legislative authority has grown so exuberantly it’s hard to keep up. The Code of Federal Regulations now clocks in at over 175,000 pages. And no one seems sure how many more hundreds of thousands (or maybe millions) of pages of less formal or ‘sub-regulatory’ policy manuals, directives, and the like might be found floating around these days,” added Judge Gorsuch.

Once on the court, perhaps he can persuade his new colleagues to strike down rules issued by regulators whose existence cannot be verified.

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