From Volume 89, Number 4 (May 2016)
Congressional enactments and executive orders instruct agencies to publish their anticipated rules in what is known as the Unified Agenda. The Agenda’s stated purpose is to ensure that political actors can monitor regulatory development. Agencies have come under fire in recent years, however, for conspicuous omissions and irregularities. Critics allege that agencies hide their regulations from the public strategically, that is, to thwart potential political opposition. Others contend that such behavior is benign, perhaps the inevitable result of changing internal priorities or unforeseen events.
To examine these competing hypotheses, this Article uses a new dataset spanning over thirty years of rulemaking (1983–2014). Uniquely, the dataset is drawn directly from the Federal Register. The resulting findings reveal that agencies substantially underreport their rulemaking activities—about 70 percent of their proposed rules do not appear on the Unified Agenda before publication. Importantly, agencies also appear to disclose strategically with respect to Congress, though not with respect to the president. The Unified Agenda is thus not a successful tool for Congress to monitor and influence regulatory development. The results suggest that legislative, not executive, innovations may help to augment public participation and democratic oversight, though the net effects of more transparency remain uncertain. The findings also raise further inquiries, such as why Congress does not render disclosure requirements judicially enforceable.