Midnight Rules: A Comparison of Regulatory Output Across Administrations
by Daniel R. Pérez, Policy Analyst
As Presidential administrations begin to wind down during their “lame duck” period, the executive’s decrease in political influence in congress has historically been accompanied by a significant increase in the amount of regulations published by executive regulatory agencies, particularly during the final three months between Election Day and Inauguration Day. This flurry of last-minute regulatory activity, identified as early as the Carter administration’s transition to Reagan, is known as the Midnight period. Midnight rules are so named because they are the result of an executive fully exercising its power to influence policy through regulation in a rush to beat the “stroke of Midnight” on inauguration day, which removes its political power—like Cinderella’s magic running out as she leaves the ball.
Scholars have studied the politics concerning the outcomes of this Cinderella constraint, both quantitatively and qualitatively, but the occurrence of Midnight rules also affects the amount of time and regulatory oversight that rules receive before being published. This has direct implications for the quality of review that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is able to provide.