Earlier in my career I was based in Washington, DC. There are two remembrances that helped me understand Washington that remain relevant today:
1. Forty years ago, our firm joined with a team that was commissioned by the Business Roundtable to calculate the costs of government regulation. The parameters were a bit more specific and somewhat complex, but however they were judged, the amounts were large. Then, prior to the thousands of regulations issued since, business leaders were trying to make the case for reasonableness and a significant overhaul.
The number of final rules published each year is generally in the range of 2500 to 4500, according to the Office of the Federal Register. Thirty-five years ago, the Federal Register published some 50,000 pages annually; today, the annual number will exceed 75,000 pages.
In the intervening decades, an increasing number of business leaders seemed to focus more on working out their deal within this complex structure rather than taking on the goal of righteous simplification. That also seemed to fit nicely with funding needed for re-election campaigns.
There are now more than 50,000 lawyers in Washington. On a per capita basis, their density is overwhelming – more than 10 times that of any other location in the US. And that leads me to the second remembrance from that era...
2. Engaged on an assignment with tight deadlines and high expectations, our team performed well. After the many long days, weekends and all the other work stresses that most readers of this column have experienced, I still recall vividly a conversation with an attorney friend: “I am so happy that we are at last finished,” I said. “Finished,” he exclaimed. “We are never finished!”
Our economic recovery is the weakest ever. There are suffocating regulations in those 75,000 pages and, unfortunately, more to come. Finished, they’re never finished.
Daniel Malachuk works with business and government leaders on global direct investment strategies. He has advised many of the world's leading companies and served in the US public sector as director of White House operations.