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Thomas Gallatin / October 10, 2019

Make Government Transparency Great Again

Federal agencies must make all regulatory-guidance documents publicly available online.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders aimed at ensuring that Americans are not left in the dark regarding regulations. As he signed the two new directives, Trump stated, “We are reforming the bureaucracy to make it lean, responsive, and accountable. And we are ensuring our laws are enforced fairly.”

The first order, entitled “Bringing Guidance Out of the Darkness,” mandates all federal government agencies publish all regulatory-guidance documents on easily searchable websites to allow Americans better access and input. The order further requires that the government “permit citizens to give their input on these guidelines,” and insists that the public “will have the ability to ask agencies to withdraw guidance they believe is wrong.”

Trump’s second order, titled “Transparency and Fairness,” prohibits government agencies from enforcing regulations “that have not been made publicly known.” Furthermore, citizens cannot be prosecuted based upon an agency’s interpretation “of how a statute or regulation applies to particular circumstances.” Instead, citizens are legally liable only regarding the actual law or regulation. This is an important feature of this executive order. As The Wall Street Journal editorial board observes, “Recall how the Obama Administration relied on guidance as a substitute for regulation. Why take the trouble to issue formal rules, with all that pesky public comment, if the agency can post a memo setting out the policy it plans to pursue?” In other words, an agency’s regulatory guidance cannot supersede or replace the actual law or rule with which it is intended to help the public comply.

In short, there’s still a long way to go to rein in the bureaucratic apparatus that has far too much influence over our lives. But Trump’s executive orders bring a measure of fairness and accountability back to government regulation. This is a big win for all Americans, as Trump continues his march to cut down to size the regulatory nightmare that is Washington red tape.

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