President Donald Trump recently signed two executive orders (EO) that are an important step towards making government agencies transparent and accountable to the American taxpayer. 

Trump’s “Improved Agency Guidance Documents” EO requires agencies to put guidance documents on an easily searchable website. Trump’s “Transparency and Fairness” EO prohibits federal agencies from enforcing rules that have not been made public in advance. Taken together, these actions are imperative in protecting Americans from bureaucratic abuse.

The Obama Administration was a nightmare for taxpayers. This maxim is especially true on the regulatory front, where federal agencies imposed thousands of costly mandates on taxpayers through a flurry of blogs, letters, brochures, and the like. These “guidance” documents are a way for federal agencies to bypass normal regulatory process, including public comments and cost-benefit analysis. 

Bureaucratic abuse of American taxpayers via guidance documents was a commonplace activity in the Obama Administration. Here are four examples: 

  • In 2011, Obama’s Department of Interior refused to renew a permit for Drakes Bay Oyster Company, a family owned-and-operated oyster farm that had operated in California for over 5 decades. The DOI used doctored data to deny renewal, arguing that courts didn’t have the jurisdiction to even hear the case. After three years of costly litigation, Obama’s DOI was unfortunately successful in its quest to shutter another small business. 
  • In 2013, Wyoming taxpayer Andy Johnson built a bond for his daughters’ horses in his backyard, working with state engineers to ensure that the pond was environmentally friendly and ecologically beneficial. In 2014, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats swarmed the Johnson family and threatened to hit them with a $20 million fine if they didn’t destroy their pond. The EPA only backed down after the left-wing New York Times published a cover story on how abusively the agency was treating the Johnson family. 
  • In 2015, a Department of Labor blog post declared that many independent contractors should be classified as full-time employees. This new “guidance” blindsided thousands of small businesses all across the country, all of whom were denied the opportunity to offer any input on the guidance. 
  • Finally, the Army Corps of Engineers prevented the growth of a small business in Alaska by deeming that permafrost was a “navigable water of the United States.” Richard Schok, hoping to expand his small, family-owned pipe fabrication business, purchased a plot of land with traditional wetlands in Fairbanks. The Corps cited an illegal guidance document known as the “Alaska Supplement” to argue that the wetlands AND permafrost were subject to the agency’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The courts have repeatedly upheld the government’s decision. 

All three of these examples of regulatory abuse share a common thread — overzealous bureaucrats used off-the-books guidance documents to intimidate, threaten, and harass American small businesses. The American people should not be bound by murky “guidance documents” that they do not have the opportunity to influence via public comment, and agencies should not be allowed to use these documents to decimate American families and small businesses. Trump’s EO is an important step towards stopping the regulatory abuse of American taxpayers.