2012’s Year-End Regulatory Report Card

Both 2011 and 2010 finished with over 81,000 pages in the Federal Register, as tallied in Ten Thousand Commandments. These were the highest page counts ever.

Of course page counts don’t tell you much; rules of a few pages might be burdensome, lengthy rules might impose comparatively less of a headache.

It’s now the second day of 2013. On December 31, 2012, the Federal Register added 441 pages. That brought the year’s total to 77,250 pages in the hard-copy (or PDF, as is customary for many readers today) edition. In my own adjusted tally, which will account for some skips and blanks, I find 76,875 pages.

So at least in terms of the page count, we’re not at a record level despite an imminent surge of rules affecting energy efficiency, health care, and finance. Rule flows slowed prior to the presidential election, and the question is is less if they will pick up but when.

Within those 76,875 pages, 3,706 final rules were issued by my tally. The Federal Register‘s own searchable database puts it at slightly more at 3,714, which I expect to drop a bit.

Roughly equivalent to 2011’s 3,781 final rules, the 2012 count is no record but exceeds the levels of President Obama’s first two years.

The administration’s long-delayed Unified Agenda of Federal Regulations finally appeared on Friday, December 21, just before the Christmas holiday. The Agenda is required to appear twice annually, however the administration only issued this one tardy document, making comparisons to earlier years less than straightforward.

What we can tell is that the number of rules in the pipeline — final, proposed, recently completed — stands at 4,062, which is lower than the previous two years, but more than the two before that (see Figure 11 in Ten Thousand Commandments for the history of this tally).

The chunk of these rules regarded as most costly are called “economically significant.” In this category, there were 224 rules overall in the pipeline, more than 2011’s 212. The subset of these completed during 2012 was 57. This is substantially more than last years 45, exceeds 2010’s 51, and is much greater than Obama’s first year, which featured 33 completed economically significant rules. (See Figures 12 and 13 in Ten Thousand Commandments for the history of the categories of economically significant rules.)

Trends and the policy environment in Washington, D.C., point to rising regulation. Many will be watching.