Obama administration delivers delayed regulatory agenda, could cost billions

By law, each April and October, federal agencies are required to release an accounting of proposed regulations that will have an economically significant impact. That didn't happen in 2012.

Instead, the Obama administration didn't release its 2012 regulatory agenda until on the Friday before Christmas.

"The fact that this snuck in after the election, during the holiday season when people were otherwise occupied with their families, is not surprising," said John Malcolm, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.

Since the Dec. 21 release, legal experts and analysts have been pouring through the tens of thousands of pages in order to determine their impact. According to an initial estimate by the American Action Forum, which notes that some entries are missing key fiscal data, the cost of implementing the agenda would top $123 billion. Completing the paperwork could require more than 13 million man-hours.

"It's massive," former Deputy Attorney General Tom Dupree said. "There's no way any human being can sit down and read this whole thing from front to back."

Dozens of federal agencies, from the Energy Department to the Department of Homeland Security, have the authority to issue regulations without any congressional involvement.

Simply put, Dupree says, "The regulators are very powerful." Their reach extends into every corner of U.S. business operations and private property.

"They control the cost of the products that you buy, your living conditions, your work conditions, limit the kinds of activities that you can do," Malcolm said. He also notes that many of the regulations carry significant civil and criminal penalties and that average Americans sometimes wind up in jail - even when they aren't aware of the provision they're ultimately convicted of violating.

In just the last 90 days, according to its own website, the federal government has issued more than 5,500 new regulatory proposals.  However, it continues to miss deadlines related to the health care law and the Dodd-Frank law regulating Wall Street. Roughly half of those regulatory deadlines have been missed.