"During the final months of recent presidential administrations, federal agencies have typically issued a larger number of rules relative to comparable time periods earlier in the administration. This phenomenon is often referred to as 'midnight rulemaking.' Various scholars and observers of the federal regulatory process have documented evidence of midnight rulemaking by recent outgoing administrations, and many expect a similar trend to reoccur in the final months of the Obama Administration. Midnight rulemaking likely occurs because the outgoing presidential administration wants to achieve certain policy goals before the end of its term. Because it can be difficult to change or eliminate rules after they have been finalized, issuing midnight rules can help ensure a legacy for a President--especially when an incoming administration is of a different party. As one George W. Bush Administration official wrote, midnight rulemaking is like 'Cinderella leaving the ball. … [P]residential appointees hurried to issue last-minute 'midnight' regulations before they turned back into ordinary citizens at noon on January 20th.' Some entities and individuals have raised a number of concerns over the practice of midnight rulemaking. One such concern is that an outgoing administration has less political accountability compared to an administration faced with the possibility of reelection. Furthermore, rules that are hurried through at the end of an administration may not have the same opportunity for public input: agencies may find that to issue regulations by the end of an administration, they may not have sufficient time to read and digest public comments received during the comment period."
CRS Insight, IN10516
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/index.html