Since 1980 the “regulatory state” in the United States has grown enormously, whether measured by the sheer number of new federal regulations, the number of staff employed by federal regulatory agencies, the costs imposed on small businesses, or the national economic burdens of “major” rules—those that typically cost society more than $100 million in compliance costs. The complexities of the modern regulatory state are amplified by the proliferation of state and local regulations, sometimes without any coordination with federal regulations. Internationally, U.S. regulations are often different than regulations issued in Europe or in other parts of the world, which gives rise to concerns about nontariff barriers to trade and the use of regulation for protectionist purposes.
The solution to the growing “regulatory state” will often be more nuanced than deregulation, since federal regulatory programs have reaped significant benefits for the American people: civil rights, safer prescription drugs, clean air and water, and better food safety information for consumers. The term “regulatory reform” refers to a growing intellectual and political movement, both in the U.S. and abroad, to design a better, smarter, and more efficient regulatory system. The focus is sometimes on fixing the flaws in specific regulatory programs but often the focus is on improvements in the processes used to develop, implement, enforce and evaluate regulatory programs.