The federal government's executive, legislative, and judicial branches act together to shape policy and its implementation. For a glimpse into what the federal government does, this section summarizes a subset of work the executive and legislative branches completed in 2021. Specifically, it shows bills that became public law, executive orders and presidential memoranda, and rulemaking by executive agencies classified as significant by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Although state and local governments implemented many noteworthy actions in 2021, such as mask mandates, voting and abortion legislation, or law enforcement and education policy changes, this list only includes actions by the federal government.​

Congress passed 81 bills into law.

Five bills had more than 100 cosponsors: a bill establishing grant programs to address neurodegenerative diseases (331 cosponsors), a bill awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to servicemembers who died in Afghanistan (326 cosponsors), a bill instituting a service dog therapy program for veterans (317 cosponsors), a bill awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to the Harlem Hellfighters (311 cosponsors), and a bill extending the Paycheck Protection Program (101 cosponsors). Also, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November, appropriating $1.2 trillion over five years, including about $550 billion in new spending.

President Joe Biden signed 101 executive orders plus presidential memoranda, and President Donald Trump signed 12.

That reflects all executive orders and presidential memoranda — a similar form of official directive often discussed interchangeably — that the administrations published in the Federal Register. It excludes two of Biden's orders that amended his previous 2021 orders and six orders from President Donald Trump’s last month in office that Biden revoked.​

Agencies implemented 291 significant rule changes.

This does not include 96 rules that corrected or amended other rules passed in the same year or were later revoked in the same year.​

What did these 485 federal government actions do?

Federal Government Actions

There were 52 government actions on health.

These included an executive order and two rules, respectively, requiring federal employees and contractors, employees of large employers, and healthcare workers to be vaccinated against (or, in the case of private employees, regularly test for) COVID-19. The Supreme Court struck down the mandate for large employers in January 2022. Several pieces of legislation addressed the opioid epidemic by modifying drug regulations and establishing education programs for health care providers. ​ Overall, 27 of the 52 actions addressed either the COVID-19 pandemic or the opioid epidemic.

There were also 12 health insurance and healthcare actions, including requiring insurance plans to transparently report prescription drug and healthcare spending information.

Federal Government Actions

There were 69 government actions on the economy and jobs.

Among them were an executive order and accompanying Labor Department rule increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15/hour, legislative extensions of the Paycheck Protection Program, and debt forgiveness provisions in response to COVID-19.

Fifteen actions were direct responses to the economic effects of COVID-19, mostly with business support programs. There were also 17 actions on employment and 17 about financial and business regulation.

Federal Government Actions

There were 69 government actions on the standard of living.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provided $1.9 trillion to address the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, public health, state and local governments, people, and businesses and included direct payments of up to $1,400 to many Americans. Though not counted as part of these 68 actions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to extend a national eviction moratorium first implemented in 2020. The Supreme Court blocked the last of these extensions in August 2021, but some states kept local eviction moratoria in place. ​

Thirty-eight of these actions related to benefits for elderly, disabled, and low-income people, such as Medicare, Medicaid, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Federal Government Actions

There was one government action on population.

This was an executive order revoking a previous order by President Trump requiring the Census Bureau to track citizenship status in the decennial census. After this executive order, the Census Bureau suspended its work on the immigration status of the US population. The data that states used for redistricting did not include citizenship or immigration status information.

Federal Government Actions

There were 23 government actions on the budget.

These included two continuing resolutions, bills that extend federal agency funding over a specific period based on the previous year’s funding to avoid a government shutdown when a normal appropriations bill has not passed. There were also two bills that collectively raised the public debt ceiling by $3 trillion.​

Most of these actions were about taxes and revenue. For instance, 12 IRS and Treasury Department rules established regulations for how taxpayers and organizations report financial activities or are assigned to different tax treatments.​

Federal Government Actions

There were 12 government actions on education.

That included an executive order and a presidential memorandum directing the Education Department to help create conditions for a safe return to in-person school as quickly as possible.

These actions frequently addressed higher education, and four out of the five higher education rules revised financing programs, including Pell Grants, Federal Direct Stafford Loans, and TEACH grants. ​

Federal Government Actions

There were 15 government actions on crime and justice.

This includes an executive order directing the Attorney General to not renew contracts with private prisons and legislation allocating $1.9 billion to respond to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol Building.

Federal Government Actions

There were 81 government actions on land, energy, and environment.

One was a law nullifying a 2020 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that removed some emissions regulations for the oil and natural gas sector. Plus, EPA and Transportation Department rule changes strengthened emissions standards for certain vehicles and repealed regulations that allowed federal standards to supersede state rules. These three changes reversed or revised Trump administration rules.

More than half of these actions were on pollution – including 14 actions regulating use of hazardous materials – or land, resource, and species management – including 15 that established regulations on how humans interact with animals. ​

Federal Government Actions

There were 13 government actions on infrastructure.

Among them were the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and two other bills with provisions related to federal aid for highway, transit, highway safety, rail, and other Transportation Department surface transportation programs.

Federal Government Actions

There were 26 government actions on immigration.

Twenty-five of these actions governed arrivals and removals, including an executive order instructing the Department of Homeland Security to preserve and strengthen DACA, an Obama administration policy to “[defer] the removal of certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, have obeyed the law, and stayed in school or enlisted in the military.” A US district court later ruled that DACA was illegal; its implementation for new applicants is currently suspended.

Several executive orders directed federal agencies to ease the process of seeking asylum or refugee status and revoked guidance instructing law enforcement to use all available means to enforce immigration laws. Though not counted in these 26 actions, Biden also raised the yearly refugee ceiling from 62,500 in FY 2021 to 125,000 in FY 2022 and issued a proclamation redirecting funds previously diverted for the construction of a southern border wall. ​

Federal Government Actions

There were 77 government actions on defense.

These included an executive order enabling transgender people to serve in the military, plus two Commerce Department rules restricting certain international trade transactions of technology or cybersecurity items that might pose a threat to US security in the hands of adversaries.​

Overall, most of these actions related to either veteran benefits (28 actions), or foreign affairs (22 actions), including economic sanctions in response to human rights abuses abroad.​

Federal Government Actions

There were 47 other government actions.

The majority dealt with general governance. One executive order required that all executive agency appointees sign an ethics commitments pledge. Another adjusted the pay rates for various government officials. Several executive orders that Biden signed rescinded actions taken by the Trump administration.​

There were also 12 ceremonial actions, including a bill designating Juneteenth (June 19) as a public holiday.​

To learn more, look at the full list of actions categorized in this section, including descriptions, dates, source links, and the names and political parties of bill sponsors.

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