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Federal regulations affect every aspect of our economy. These are rules issued by federal agencies that govern the implementation of legislation and thus have the full force of law. By 2016, we estimate that the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) contained no less than 1.08 million individual regulatory restrictions. Regulatory restrictions are instances of terms such as shall, must, may not, prohibited, and required, that usually create prescriptive or postscriptive obligations. This buildup of regulations is not benign. A study published in 2012 estimated that the U.S. economy would be 25 percent larger that year had the number of regulatory restrictions remained at 1980 levels. Other recent research suggests that the costs of regulations fall disproportionately on low-income households.

Each state’s economy includes a unique mix of industries, and different industries are affected by different federal regulations. This means that even though federal regulations apply in every state, the impact of any specific regulation on any individual state’s economy is likely to be proportional to the size of the regulated sector in that state; which is to say that the incidence of regulations varies across every state. The FRASE index is an indicator of the relative force of federal regulations on each state’s private sector; it is a ratio, specific to each state, between the adjusted number of regulations and the unadjusted total number of regulations where the adjustment inflates or deflates the number of regulations based on the industrial make up of that state. This ratio or score can then be used to rank-order all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2015, Washington experienced the 30th highest impact of federal regulations. With a current-basis score of 0.94, the impact of federal regulations on Washington’s private sector was 6 percent less than the impact of federal regulations on the nation overall. A FRASE score of 1 means that federal regulations affect a state to precisely the same degree that they affect the nation as a whole. This information, as well as Washington’s constant-basis scores over time, can be found in table 1. (The constant-basis FRASE score measures the impact of federal regulations on a state in a specific year relative to the United States as a whole in the year 1997. The current-basis FRASE score measures the impact of federal regulations on a state in a specific year relative to the United States as a whole in that same year.)

Historial FRASE Scores and Rankings for Washington
Year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Rank 12 18 21 22 8 10 20 21 26 29 30
FRASE Score 1.09 1.05 1.02 1.03 1.13 1.12 1.06 1.02 0.99 0.95 0.94
FRASE Score (Constant Basis) 1.26 1.25 1.25 1.3 1.46 1.47 1.45 1.47 1.46 1.45 1.46

The figure below expands on the table and shows Washington’s constant-basis score since 1997 relative to every other state and the District of Columbia.

Certain industries contribute to Washington’s FRASE score because of their relative size and Federal regulatory attention. The next figure shows the top five industries that contribute to Washington’s FRASE score. The industry that contributes the most to Washington’s FRASE score is Motor Vehicles, Bodies and Trailers, and Parts Manufacturing. This industry makes up 8.7 percent of Washington’s private-sector economy. With 33,088 estimated relevant restrictions in 2015, regulations on Motor Vehicles, Bodies and Trailers, and Parts Manufacturing account for 13.9 percent of Washington’s FRASE score.

The figure below shows the top five federal agencies that are regulating the Motor Vehicles, Bodies and Trailers, and Parts Manufacturing in Washington.

Regulatory agencies, however, can affect more than one industry and can therefore impact Washington’s private sector in multiple ways. The next figure shows the five agencies that contribute the most to Washington’s FRASE score through the regulations they produced. The single agency with the largest impact on Washington’s economy is the Environmental Protection Agency, which accounts for 26.9 percent of the total federal regulatory impact on Washington.

A defining feature of federal regulation is regulatory accumulation: it is readily observable that federal regulations tend to build up over time. The consistent buildup of rules for several decades means that federal agencies regulate virtually every private sector-industry in Washington. The figure below shows the agencies that have the broadest regulatory reach in Washington’s private sector. An agency’s regulatory reach is defined as the portion of the industries in a state economy that is regulated by 1,000 or more restrictions by that specific agency. The Environmental Protection Agency has the most significant regulatory reach in Washington, impacting 48.8 percent of Washington’s private-sector GDP.

Even though each state has a unique mixture of private-sector industries, some state economies are fairly similar to others. Those states with similar economies also tend to be most affected by similar federal regulations. One way of measuring this similarity is by using a standard distance formula to compare the rankings of industries by contribution to each state’s FRASE score. The five states listed below were found to be most similar, by this metric, to Washington’s economy:

  1. Minnesota
  2. Missouri
  3. Maine
  4. Michigan
  5. Virginia

The FRASE index can help Washington’s citizens and policymakers consider the impact of federal regulations in their state and determine whether that impact is adequately represented in the current debate about regulation. See the Mercatus Center at George Mason University’s primer on comprehensive regulatory reform for possible improvements to our current regulatory system. Download this state brief or any other at QuantGov.org/50states/.