Summer is for the beach, but the regulatory state never takes a holiday. In August alone, 7,492 pages were added to the Federal Register, recording every twitch of the administrative giant. So what did the feds do instead of lazing in the sun? We didn’t read it all (we’re journalists, not masochists), but here’s a light sample from the first week of last month:
• The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a plan to protect the majestic White Bluffs bladderpod, a subspecies of scruffy plant that grows on a row of hills in one county of Washington state. Another subspecies is more common. The most distinctive difference, a state fact sheet says, is that one bladderpod has “stalked hairs,” while the other has “sessile, appressed hairs.”
• The Federal Highway Administration, with happier news for Washington state, approved a plan to expand Interstate 405 . . . between milepost 21.79 and milepost 27.06. Why does it take more than a year to approve 5.27 miles of road construction? The 2,269-page environmental review was published last July, and it conclusively showed that the new roadway will not pave over bladderpods.
• The Food and Nutrition Service proposed a study to “generate a national estimate of the annual amount of improper payments in the National School Lunch Program.” This is vital work, it added, because the rate of bad payments is legally required to be “below 10 percent.”
• The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council announced that it still exists, and also it needs seven nominations for its 10-person advisory board. Three decades after the 1989 disaster that the trust aimed to redress, the debate has turned to whether it should begin to wind down, or if instead it should “adopt the ‘perpetual endowment’ model,” as two critics argued last year. At the rate President Biden is going, the oil spill trust might outlast the oil business.
• The Energy Department posted a “supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking” to clarify the “procedure for testing a microwave oven that has a connected (i.e., network) function.” This isn’t about potential Russian hackers. It has to do with energy conservation.
• The Agricultural Marketing Service said it plans to terminate an order that gives the South Texas Onion Committee authority over “grade, size, quality, pack, and container regulations.” This setup dates to 1961, but an election is held every six years, and this time 71 producers threw the bums out. No word whether the onion committee blames Dominion voting machines.
• The Education Department won the coveted longest-acronym award, seeking 2021 applications for “the Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities-National Technical Assistance and Dissemination Center (PPSID-NTAD) program.”
• The International Trade Administration issued a finding that La Molisana “sold pasta from Italy at less than normal value,” specifically 1.61% underpriced, from July 2019 to June 2020. This is merely the latest pasta twist, since the federal probe of budget-friendly Italian noodles dates to 1996.
• The Internal Revenue Service, demonstrating its sense of humor, announced it would hold meetings to solicit “suggestions on improving customer service.”
• Separately, the IRS made specific inquiries: What do folks think of Form 8621, “Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Company”? Is Section 48(a)(3)(D) of the tax code, “quality for small wind energy property,” living its best life? Pay attention, also, to the IRS’s tweaks to Treasury Decision 9889, “certain equity interests in a qualified opportunity fund (QOF).”
• The National Marine Fisheries Service authorized the state of Alaska “to incidentally harass” aquatic mammals during construction on a seaplane facility. The seals will be glad to learn this approval covers only “Level B harassment,” including from underwater noise.
• The State Department posted a catalog of diplomatic gifts U.S. officials received in 2019 that were above de minimis value, making them federal property. Aside from the news of a missing whiskey bottle, Vietnam gave President Trump a “painting of President Donald J. Trump, ” Canada gave Mike Pence “meteorite cufflinks,” and a (name redacted) donor gave a (name redacted) CIA agent “two stuffed bears” and “a Ralph Lauren sweater.” Well, somebody has to log the tchotchkes that American officials get handed abroad.
The federal government’s reach is something to behold, and no doubt the bureaucracy will be back with another 7,500 pages next month, and the month after that. We thought you’d like to know what you’re paying for.
— The Wall Street Journal