Regulatory Policy Timeline An Interactive History of Federal Regulatory Reform


  • Executive Actions Executive Orders or reforms issued directly by the president which have the force of law. Some presidents have tried to unilaterally reform the administrative state through executive orders or mandated management systems. Executive orders may be overturned by a Congressional statute.
  • Government Statute Laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. When one party controls both houses of Congress, regulatory reform is more likely to take the form of a statute. Statutes carry more weight than executive orders.

Federal Regulatory Restrictions

A count of binding constraints marked by words that create an obligation to comply, such as “shall” or “must” in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Check out our Reference Page for details on data sources.

Combined Agency Budgets

($ millions adjusted for inflation) The combined annual budgets of regulatory agencies used for the administration and enforcement of federal regulations. Includes agencies whose regulations affect the private sector and excludes agencies that focus on taxation, entitlement spending, procurement, subsidies, and credit functions. Check out our Reference Page for details.

Total $ Federal Regulations

($ millions adjusted for inflation) Annual direct costs to state and local governments, businesses, and individuals to comply with federal regulatory requirements. Does not include regulatory agency budget costs. Check out our Reference Page for details on data sources.

Pages in Federal Register

The Federal Register is the daily government publication of all rules, proposed rules, and public notices from federal agencies. Check out our Reference Page for details on data sources.

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Executive Order
Executive orders are directives passed down directly by the president. While they carry weight, they are far less intrusive or impactful as statutes.

Government Statute
Government statutes are regulations instituded by congressional approval (?) and can have a serious impact on the efficiency, profitability, and feasability of small businesses throughout the country.


Interpreting the Timeline

This timeline summarizes the successes and failures of U.S. federal regulatory reform. Each summary contains an overview of the reform's goals, duration, and outcomes. In measuring outcomes, we considered the relative cost of federal regulation and regulatory budget. Additionally, each pin is color-coded to indicate Democrat and Republican representation in Congress. A longer summary is available for each reform by clicking "Read Full Summary." 

The Takeaway

Over the past 70 years, 30 major regulatory reform initiatives were introduced with the goal of making federal agencies more efficient, transparent, and accountable. 

The result?

  • Nearly 1.1 million federal regulatory restrictions exist, and that doesn't include overlapping state and local regulations! 
  • Almost 10% of our annual GDP ($16,000 per American household) is spent on federal compliance.
  • We have no reliable estimate of the social benefits we get in return. 

If politicians all agree on the need to take action, why has nothing worked? In sum:

  • Congress continues to pass laws mandating more agency regulations.
  • Agencies have little incentive to streamline or retire outdated, conflicting, or poorly written rules.
  • Reforms typically add more reporting requirements, but rarely establish performance metrics for agencies.   

Argive is building a new approach to modernize regulatory review with the power of open data and large-scale citizen feedback. With better information, policymakers and researchers can make informed regulatory decisions in the public interest.