No More Rule by Memorandum

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

President Trump has cut enough red tape in office to suffice for 100 golf course grand openings. In his first two years, the regulatory budget showed $33 billion in savings, according to the White House. An official tally isn’t out for fiscal 2019, which ended Sept. 30, but the American Action Forum estimates another $8.5 billion in savings.

This means three straight years in which Washington reduced its major demands on Americans. Now Mr. Trump is delivering on another important regulatory project: bolstering procedural safeguards. On Wednesday he signed two executive orders to curb informal “guidance” by federal agencies.

All of these bulletins, memos and letters now must be posted publicly online. Each will need to “clearly state that it does not bind the public, except as authorized by law or as incorporated into a contract.” If the guidance is expected to have $100 million in economic effects, it must go through cost-benefit analysis, as well as 30 days of public comment.

Mr. Trump’s second order makes clear that guidance can’t justify enforcement actions: “The agency may not treat noncompliance with a standard of conduct announced solely in a guidance document as itself a violation of applicable statutes or regulations.” Legal consequences for citizens must be based on actual laws or regulations. Guidance can only “articulate the agency’s understanding of how a statute or regulation applies to particular circumstances.”

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