Government Bureaucracy, Regulation and Red Tape

Government Bureaucracy, Regulation and Red Tape

© David Burton 2011

Government Red Tape

     Government has become a millstone around the necks of the average citizen and the entire business community. Government actions mimic the behavior of a pendulum. First they swing in one direction - too little and too ineffective, and then they swing in the other direction - too much and counterproductive. As Pogo, that famous observer of the American scene aptly stated, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” In the present case, the enemy is rampant government bureaucracy, overregulation and uncontrollable red tape.

     President Ronald Reagan had some notable quotes about big government. These include, ”Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem!”, “The ten most dangerous words in the English language are ‘Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help!’”, “Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other!” These astute observations were accurate when made, but they are even more pertinent in today’s environment. Bureaucracy is ever desirous of spreading its influence and its power. The history of government bureaucracies is that once they are established, it is well nigh impossible to dismantle them or even prevent them from swallowing more resources. Government bureaucracies become so powerful that they can make all of us seem to be so dependent that we are lulled into thinking that they are the only answer to every problem. They are not, indeed they are part and parcel of the problem itself!

     A century-old example of this type of government behavior is to be found in the building of the Panama Canal. In response to perceived possible misuse of funds, the bureaucracy back in Washington instituted a number of processes, reviews and oversight to attack the supposed problems. Then as today, the result, of the Washington bureaucracy was an unmitigated disaster. A description of what took place is as follows:

     “What began in Washington as a conscientious concern over possible misuse of funds, anything that might nurture graft, rapidly became an obsessive fear of the least extravagance. … An elaborate, insanely deliberate system of forms and regulations was handed down and every detail of procedure had to be cleared by the seven {members of the Isthmian Canal Commission or ICC} who sat two thousand miles from the scene. The well-meaning but intractable … commissioners had to pass with due formality on virtually every purchase voucher, irrespective of importance, with the inevitable result that delivery of equipment and material took months instead of weeks to reach {Panama}. One shipment of urgently needed water pipe ordered in August would not arrive until January.”
     “On the Isthmus, to hire a single handcart for an hour required six separate vouchers. Carpenters were forbidden to saw boards over ten feet in length without a signed permit. The clerical work required for each fortnightly payroll was amazing: By September {1904}, with 1,800 workers on the books, payment took six and a half hours and involved the filling out of 7,500 separate pieces of paper weighing in all 3 pounds.” (Ref. 1)

     Fortunately, the bureaucratic problems initially present when the United States began its construction of the Panama Canal were quickly eliminated and the U.S. went on to successfully complete the construction of the canal. Unfortunately, as will be shown, today’s governmental bureaucracy has spiraled out of control and shows no sign of being brought under control.

     “Examples of unwarranted government intrusions into the business marketplace are to be found everywhere. Very recently, the federal government has challenged the right of the Boeing Company to operate a plant in South Carolina, a state that has a right-to-work law, i.e., employees can elect to not join a union as a condition of employment.
     “The federal government lawsuit challenging Boeing’s move into right-to-work state South Carolina is also indicative of the federal government’s increasing interference in business decisions being made by, and rightfully belonging to the business itself. The National Labor Relations Board claims Boeing broke federal labor laws when it decided to open a $1 billion nonunion plant in South Carolina because past union strikes at Washington facilities disrupted production. This type of toxic federal involvement does not paint a hopeful picture for business owners, and the cloud of frustration and uncertainty by such heavy-handedness trickles down to even the smallest of companies.” (Ref. 2) Boeing’s attempt to move some of its production to a right-to-work state would have helped its competitive position vis-à-vis its main competitor, European Airbus. Making Boeing less competitive in the world aviation market does not help to keep jobs in the U.S. and it is less than helpful in keeping Boeing a productive and tax-paying major American business. The American economy cannot withstand this type of government interference in business decisions.

Federal Taxation System

     One form of government bureaucracy that affects every aspect of life in America, whether business related or simply that of the lives of each and every citizen is the federal system of taxation. In terms of financial cost, manpower and resources required, and lost time, the burden imposed by America’s Byzantine taxation system is immense. According to the US Government Printing Office, the part of the US Code of Federal Tax Regulations that's written by the IRS is composed of 13,458 pages. The part written by Congress is a mere 3,387 printed pages, bringing the adjusted gross page count to 16,845 pages. By comparison, the full Bible is 1,291 pages long.

     “The percentage of federal income tax returns signed by paid tax preparers increased from 38% in 1980 to over 58% in 2007; The percentage of returns signed by a paid preparer or prepared through the use of a computer program increased from 66% in 1996 to 90% in 2009; The average fee charged by H&R Block (the largest tax preparation firm in the country) increased from $27.36 in 1980 to $179.07 in 2011; The instruction booklet for Form 150 expanded from 52 pages in 1985 to 179 pages in 2010.”
     “The fact that {the instruction booklet for Form 150} has more than doubled in length in 15 years, and more than tripled in length in 25 years, says a lot about how much more complex a typical federal income tax return has become. No wonder that nine out of ten tax returns are now prepared either by a paid preparer or with the use of a computer program." [Emphasis mine]
     “An item in the April 18, 2011, Wall Street Journal by Arthur B. Laffer, titled ‘The 30-Cent Tax Premium,’ cited another statistic from that National Taxpayers Union paper to make the point that the costs of tax complexity cause significant economic harm to the country. That statistic is this: federal tax paperwork consumes an amount of time equivalent to about 3.82 million employees working 40-hour weeks 50 weeks a year, or more than ‘the number of workers at the five biggest employers among Fortune 500 companies – more than all of the workers at Wal-Mart Stores, United Parcel Service, International Business Machines, McDonalds, and Target combined!’
     “Imagine what would happen if instead of being occupied by tax paperwork, those 7.64 billion worker hours were expended providing goods or services that people want to buy. That’s what Mr. Laffer did, and he reached some very interesting conclusions. He says that if the present tax complexity were cut in half (in other words, if federal taxes only took up half of those 7.64 billion worker hours and the other half were used for something productive), long-term economic growth would increase by about one-half of one percent per year.”
     “Another quantifier that Mr. Laffer puts on federal tax complexity is the cost of tax compliance. Tax compliance costs $431 billion annually. The effect of that expense is “a cost markup of 30 cents on every dollar paid in taxes,” hence the title of the article. So, for every $100 paid in taxes, there is an additional cost of $30 to do what it takes to pay the $100. Not exactly what you could call an efficient system, huh?" [Emphasis mine]
     “… The federal tax code is … a disgrace. The change in recent years has been entirely in one direction, best exemplified by the Form 150 booklet more than doubling in length in the last 15 years. No wonder the IRS won’t even mail it to taxpayers anymore.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 3)

     The American tax system is a huge convoluted mess. The American tax system is a mess that's completely unfair, and that few Americans can comprehend. The American tax system is not only a mess, but an extraordinarily complex mess, for individuals, for corporate entities, businesses and for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) itself. Call them with a question about your income taxes and there is no guarantee that you will receive a correct reply." Today’s federal tax code is not only long, "It’s very long! - and it keeps getting longer. Last year alone (2010), there were something like 579 changes. That’s more than a change every day. [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 4)

     “U.S. taxpayers will spend $431 billion just complying with the tax code this year {2011}, according a new study … . That … represents just the value of the time taxpayers will spend keeping records and filling out tax forms, and the cost of paying professional tax preparers to do it for them, plus the cost of the bureaucracy needed to administer the tax code. That $431 billion amounts to 30 percent of the total of income taxes collected.
     “Why does it cost so much to comply with tax laws? For starters, the tax code is long. It contains 3.8 million words as of 2010. And the task of figuring it out is all the more impossible because the law is constantly changing. In 2001, the tax code contained “only” 1.4 million words, but since then there have been approximately 4,428 changes to the tax laws. There were 579 changes in 2010 alone. The National Taxpayer Advocate routinely identifies tax law complexity as the number one problem facing taxpayers.” (Ref. 5)


     “The Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002, enacted July 30, 2002, also known as the 'Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act' (in the Senate) and 'Corporate and Auditing Accountability and Responsibility Act' (in the House) and commonly called Sarbanes–Oxley, Sarbox or SOX, is a … federal law …, which sets new or enhanced standards for all U.S. public company boards, management and public accounting firms. “
        - - -
     “The bill was enacted as a reaction to a number of major corporate and accounting scandals.”
        - - -
     “The act contains 11 titles, or sections … The act … covers issues such as auditor independence, corporate governance, internal control assessment, and enhanced financial disclosure.”
        - - -
     “Opponents of the bill claim it has reduced America's international competitive edge against foreign financial service providers, saying SOX has introduced an overly complex regulatory environment into U.S. financial markets.”
        - - -
     It has been said “that SOX was an unnecessary and costly government intrusion into corporate management that places U.S. corporations at a competitive disadvantage with foreign firms, driving businesses out of the United States.” In addition, "These regulations are damaging American capital markets by providing an incentive for small US firms and foreign firms to deregister from US stock exchanges. According to a study by a researcher at the Wharton Business School, the number of American companies deregistering from public stock exchanges nearly tripled during the year after Sarbanes–Oxley became law, while the New York Stock Exchange had only 10 new foreign listings in all of 2004. The reluctance of small businesses and foreign firms to register on American stock exchanges is easily understood when one considers the costs Sarbanes–Oxley imposes on businesses. According to a survey by Korn/Ferry International, Sarbanes–Oxley cost Fortune 500 companies an average of $5.1 million in compliance expenses in 2004, while a study by the law firm of Foley and Lardner found the Act increased costs associated with being a publicly held company by 130 percent.
     “A research study published ... in the Journal of Accounting Research in 2008 found that following the act's passage, smaller international companies were more likely to list in stock exchanges in the U.K. rather than U.S. stock exchanges.”
     “A December 21, 2008 Wall St. Journal editorial stated, "The new laws and regulations have neither prevented frauds nor instituted fairness. But they have managed to kill the creation of new public companies in the U.S., cripple the venture capital business, and damage entrepreneurship. According to the National Venture Capital Association, in all of 2008 there have been just six companies that have gone public. Compare that with 269 IPOs in 1999, 272 in 1996, and 365 in 1986."
        - - -
     “The editorial concludes that: "For all of this, we can first thank Sarbanes–Oxley. Cooked up in the wake of accounting scandals earlier this decade, it has essentially killed the creation of new public companies in America, hamstrung the NYSE and Nasdaq (while making the London Stock Exchange rich), and cost U.S. industry more than $200 billion by some estimates." (Ref. 6)

     As stated earlier, the pendulum usually swings too far in response to a perceived problem. Sarbanes-Oxley appears to fit this description. “The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) is a colossal failure, poorly conceived and hastily enacted during a regulatory panic. Evidence suggests that the market has estimated that SOX will impose huge indirect costs on top of substantial direct costs. A largely overlooked concern is the act’s potential to turn into a litigation time bomb: the first major market correction will likely become a feast for trial lawyers. SOX’s defenders assert that the business world is better off now than before SOX, but the relevant question is whether it is better because of SOX. Existing institutions could have responded to any problems without a vast one-size-fits-all regulation from the federal government.” (Ref. 7)

     “… of 80 international companies that went public {from 2001 to 2006} on the London Stock Exchange, 90% decided Sarbanes-Oxley made London more attractive relative to U.S. exchanges.
     “More damningly …, as recently as 2000 nine out of every ten dollars raised by foreign companies through new stock offerings was done in New York. Today, nine out of every ten dollars raised is in London or Luxembourg.
     “… Sarbanes-Oxley has cost public company shareholders $1.4 trillion, not to mention the billions of dollars spent on compliance. These numbers are once again the ‘seen.’ What we don’t know is what investors lost when private companies stayed private in order to avoid the law’s draconian rules. We also will never know what opportunities and risks public companies avoided with Sarbanes-Oxley in mind. …. How many … entrepreneurs have folded up their tents or kept their companies private out of fear of Sarbanes-Oxley liabilities?
     “Laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley are superfluous, and for their impact on economic activity, anti-growth.” (Ref. 8)


     The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is an attempt “ to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”

     The Act contains over 2,300 pages and “is categorized into sixteen titles and by one law firm's count, it requires that regulators create 243 rules, conduct 67 studies, and issue 22 periodic reports.”
        - - -
     “The Act, which was passed as a response to the late-2000s recession, was touted as the most sweeping change to financial regulation in the United States since the Great Depression and purportedly represented a significant change in the American financial regulatory environment affecting all Federal financial regulatory agencies and affecting almost every aspect of the nation's financial services industry.” (Ref. 9)

     Once again, the government’s response to a problem has been to generate a plethora of new regulations, to require reams of paperwork from American businesses and to create still more regulatory and oversight bureaucracies with hundreds and thousands of still more government workers. “Uncertainty has long been the watchword for opponents of Dodd-Frank. When Mr. Obama signed the act last year, the United States Chamber of Commerce said it was “a broad, sweeping bill” that “epitomizes a law with unintended consequences that creates more uncertainty for American businesses.” (Ref. 10)

     Sarbanes-Oxley and Frank-Dodd are glaring examples of overly burdensome government rules and regulations that strangle U.S. businesses under mountains of red tape and unnecessary paperwork. In response to this overkill, "{Missouri} Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler {called} for the easing of burdensome government regulations that are standing in the way of private sector job creation and economic growth. … .”
     {She said that she was} “fully aware of the time-consuming burden on our nation's job creators. Adding reams of government red tape will not solve our economic and unemployment problems in this country. We must let the private sector do what it does best – create wealth and prosperity. Onerous government rules and regulations impede private-sector job creation, discourage innovation and entrepreneurial activity, and hurt economic growth and investment by needlessly raising prices.
     "These regulations also force businesses to spend time and energy doing paperwork to satisfy the demands of bureaucrats. These federal regulations increase the cost of doing business and destroy jobs.” (Ref. 11)


     The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act will soon impose more federal tax paperwork and significant new reporting burdens on all businesses. “A lesser-known provision of the health care reform law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) requires all businesses to file a miscellaneous 79 form with the IRS for all purchases of property and services that exceed $600, starting with the 2012 filing.
     “Most businesses will now be required to file a 79 form for every kind of vendor from which they purchase products or services, including phone, Internet, gasoline, advertising, office supplies, and much more. Businesses will have to track all purchases and then report the dollar amount of sales on a 79 form whenever the $600 threshold is reached.
     “The National Association of Manufacturers says small business owners will have to file two forms—one with the vendor and one with the IRS—for almost every business-to-business transaction.”
     "The new reporting requirement will dramatically increase businesses’ accounting costs and could expose many to IRS audits. It is designed to raise $1.7 billion in taxes annually to help pay for health reform.
     “According to the U.S. Chamber {of Commerce}, 40 million entities, including businesses, governments, and nonprofits of all sizes across the nation, will be subject to the new data collection and IRS information filing.
     “It’s also likely that the mandate will change behavior in the marketplace, driving businesses to reduce the number of vendors they deal with in order to limit the number of 79 forms they have to file.” (Ref. 12)

     “The new health care law will impose new compliance regulations, employer mandate taxes, taxes on business ‘flow-through’ and investment income, and numerous indirect costs on small- and medium-size companies. Altogether, these constraints will dramatically affect companies’ per-employee costs, firm-level allocation of labor, desire to take on health coverage, and motivation to grow both in terms of income and employment. (Ref. 13)

     “The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health recently held a hearing to review how Obamacare regulations will affect employers’ ability to maintain health coverage.
     “To illustrate the magnitude of the new regulatory burdens on businesses, subcommittee chairman Joe Pitts (R–PA) displayed a stack of over 3,500 pages of Obamacare rules, notices, and regulatory guidance issued so far by the Administration. This additional burden, the hearing highlighted, will harm employers’ ability to offer health coverage and disrupt coverage for Americans across the country. (Ref. 14)

     The new U.S. health care reform law ( March 2010), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the associated HCERA legislation are now expanding the government bureaucracy, the regulations, and the associated red tape that are related to health care.

     Here are a few examples of the items that are being added to the complexity.

* New regulations (regulatory requirements) on private health insurance companies, including new
   reporting requirements
* New regulations (regulatory requirements) on hospitals
* Thousands of new government regulators to enforce the expanded regulations; that includes an
   expansion of the Internal Revenue Service
* Expansion of existing programs, such as Medicaid.
* Over 150 new programs, commissions, positions and departments
* Addition of more government employees across multiple departments required to implement
   manage and operate the law.

Impact on Small Businesses

     While government bureaucracy, regulations and other red tape affect all businesses, large or small, the deleterious impacts are especially harmful to small businesses.

     “… the increasing role of government in the lives of small businesses has left them treading in rough waters. While there is nothing new about some degree of government involvement in the lives of small businesses, the role of the federal government has increased significantly in the past several years in the form of taxes, regulations, and bureaucratic red tape.”
     “Small businesses have been overregulated and overtaxed. And like the ants at a summer picnic, each new regulation or taxation seems to be an invitation for yet another. Recently, new EPA regulations are forcing businesses to meet new compliances, causing some plants to shut down because of the costs to meet those rules. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the new EPA regulations alone ‘will destroy 50,000 jobs and another 200,000 down the supply chain.’ This type of overregulation is the type of action that slowly wears on business optimism.”
     “Government was not designed to be the center of the marketplace, nor was it meant to be a barrier to economic growth. With each new overreach of the federal government into the lives of small business, the more it continues to choke the life out of innovation and entrepreneurship in America. Our nation was founded on the tradition that an individual could have the freedom to own and grow their own business. While there is some place for the federal government to ensure safety and protect consumers, there is much evidence that government regulations have gone far beyond that role. The slow march of the federal government into the lives of small business is largely to blame for the decline of small business optimism and, if left unchecked, it could be the death knell of Main Street all across the country.” (Ref. 2)

     "The majority of people … across the nation are employed by small businesses, but the excessive government regulations and fees on small businesses discourage expansion and job growth. A study from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that small manufacturers bear a massive regulatory burden of $26,316 per employee, more than double the burden on large manufacturers.
     "Yet this is only a fraction of the cost that all small businesses in the private sector pay when it comes to regulatory burden. When considering small businesses at large, the total cost hits $1.75 trillion, according to the Small Business Administration's most recent estimate, 36 percent more than what large businesses pay. That exceeds the gross domestic product of Canada … and rivals California's gross state product, the largest state economy in the United States.
     "What is good for the manufacturing industry is good for all businesses in the U.S. Our trading partners are not gaining ground on U.S. manufacturing because our manufacturing sector is declining; they are gaining ground because our current economic policies are failing U.S. manufacturers and businesses in the U.S.
     "We cannot use targeted and excessive regulations and policies that actively engage in picking winners and losers in the economy in order to compete globally. If we wish to continue to attract and retain innovative and successful companies, we need to reform many of the federal policies that are hampering U.S. companies.” (Ref. 15)

     "Overzealous regulation is a perennial cause of concern for small business owners and is particularly burdensome when the nation’s economy teeters on the brink of disaster. Unfortunately, the regulatory burden on small business continues to grow.”
        - - -
     “NFIB {National Federation of Independent Business} members cited ‘Unreasonable Government Regulations’ as the 6th most troublesome problem. Twenty percent named it as a critical issue.”
        - - -
     “In FY2010, federal agencies unleashed 43 major new rules. The cost of implementing these rules, as estimated by the agencies themselves, was $28 billion—the highest level since 1981.”
        - - -
     “According to the SBA {Small Business Administration}, compliance with environmental regulations costs small businesses 364% more than large firms. Since 2009, the EPA has tried to impose extremely costly rules that yield little incremental benefit over current standards.” (Ref. 16)

     Obamacare will adversely impact small businesses more than larger companies. “Small businesses do not have the capacity to easily take on additional administrative complexities. Many small companies will have to hire additional workers—and incur higher external accounting expenses—to handle not only the enhanced compliance regulations on health insurance plans but also stricter tax compliance regulations relating to business-to-business transactions." (Ref. 13)

A Small Baby Step in the Right Direction

     While the stultifying effects of over-burdensome regulation, red tape and bureaucracy are apparent to any clear thinking person, getting action to correct the problem has been miniscule. However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. It was recently announced that, "the Obama administration ... will cut regulations that will save business $10 billion over the next five years." ... These regulatory reforms "should help spur some much needed economic growth and make some simple changes that bring the regulatory system into the 21st century.”
        - - -
     "But the reforms currently being pursued represent merely the low-hanging fruit of regulatory mess." (Ref. 16)

     One size does not fit all! We find one bad apple in the barrel and we punish all the good apples in the barrel. "We just increased regulations due to bad practices of some businesses and, of course, this has a cost, both for the government and businesses." What needs to be done is to "more heavily prosecute the guilty parties and not make businesses that aren't breaking the law suffer as a result of the increased regulation." (Ref. 17)

  1. The Path Between the Seas, David McCullough,
    Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Pages 438-439, 1977.
  2. The Decline of Small Business Optimism, Randy Forbes,;, 20 June 2011 {Accessed 29 July 2011}.
  3. When is Tax Simplification Going to Happen?, Nathan Hannah, DeConcini, McDonald, Yetwin & Lacy, PC Web Site;, May 2011 {Accessed 27 July 2011}.
  4. The U.S. tax code: A "huge convoluted mess", Seth Doane, CBS;, 17 April 2011 {Accessed 29 July 2011}.
  5. The Tax Code Is Too Complicated,Alex Adrianson, The Heritage Network; 18 April 2011 {Accessed 29 July 2011}.
  6. Sarbanes–Oxley Act, Wikopedia;, Accessed 29 July 2011.
  7. The Sarbanes-Oxley Debacle What We've Learned; How to Fix It By Henry N. Butler, Larry E. Ribstein | AEI Press, Synopsis of book, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research;, June 2006.
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  9. Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,Wikipedia;, Accessed 5 August, 2011.
  10. Dodd-Frank Under Fire a Year Later, Edward Hyatt, New York Times, Business Day;, 18 July 2011 {Accessed 27 July 2011}.
  11. Hartzler- Free businesses; get rid of burdensome government regulations; Randy Turner, The Turner Report; , 23 February 2011 {Accessed 27 July 2011}.
  12. New IRS Reporting Mandate in Health Reform, CBIA {Connecticut Business & Industry Association} News Magazine;, 1 November 2010.
  13. Obamacare: Impact on Businesses, John Ligon, The heritage Foundation;, 27 April 2010, {Accessed 5 August 2011}.
  14. House Subcommittee: Obamacare Will Burden Small Businesses, Margot Crouch, The Foundry;, 1 July 2011, {Accessed 5 August 2011}.
  15. Bass: Burdensome Government Regulations Threaten Economic Growth, Charles F. Bass, Testimony before Joint Economic Committee about ways to strengthen U.S. manufacturing sector; , 22 June 2011 {Accessed 27 July 2011}.
  16. Government and Regulatory Reform, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Web Site;, Accessed 27 July 2011.
  17. Waiting for real reform, Editorial, Boston Herald, Page 20, 25 August July 2011.
  18. Five leaders. Five ideas for fixing the economy. It's a start, Gillian Rich, Boston Sunday Globe, pages G1, G5, 25 August 28, 2011.


  28 August 2011 {Article 111; Govt_24}    
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