New Data: Code of Federal Regulations Expanding, Faster Pace under Obama

The annual Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the “codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government.”

The page count for final general and permanent rules in the 50-title CFR seems less dramatic than that of the oft-cited Federal Register, which now tops 70,000 pages each year (it stood at 79,311 pages at year-end 2013, the fourth-highest level ever). The Federal Register contains lots of material besides final rules.

Still, the CFR “Archive-Of-All” is big. Very big. Back in 1960, the CFR contained 22,877 pages in 68 volumes.

The pace picked up. The CFR stood at 71,224 pages by year-end 1975, in 133 volumes.

Now, new data from the National Archives shows that the CFR stands at 175,496 at year-end 2013, including the 1,170-page index. (See the breakout below.)

That’s a 146 percent increase since 1975. The number of CFR volumes stands at 235 (as of 2012; the 2013 count remains unavailable for the time being), compared with 133 in 1975.

More recently, at the end of President George W. Bush’s second term (2008), there were 157,974 pages in the CFR.

That means President Obama has added 17,522 pages of regulations in his five years in office; one president growing the regulatory state 11 percent increase in five years.

In his five years in Office, President Obama has averaged 3,504 CFR pages annually.

Meanwhile, Bush’s final four years averaged 2,584 pages; his total eight-year tenure averaged 2,490 pages annually.

Note that the increase in the pace of regulation we witness under Obama happened despite the addition of “only” 939 pages between 2012 and 2013 (again, see below). Delays in regulations became at hot topic at election time; for example a Washington Post headline proclaimed, “White House Delayed Enacting Rules Ahead of 2012 Election To Avoid Controversy.”

Obama’s pace of regulation exceeds his predecessor despite that, and despite his being prone to proclamations like that made during the 2012 State of the Union Address: “I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.”

Obama doesn’t say things like that anymore. Instead, at this phase of his presidency, he promises to act without Congress wherever possible.

Sure, problems abound with using page counts or even numbers of rules as gauges, yet there’s no getting around the reality of greater governmental activity’s impact on the private sector’s reluctance to expand (Obamacare hurts) and citizens’ job outlook in the modern era.

Alas, the new “pen” and “phone” mindset of the executive promises to compound the growth of government.

Here is a breakdown of the Code of Federal Regulations for the past decade:

Year CFR Pages Pages Added
2000 138,049
2001 141,281 3,232
2002 145,099 3,818
2003 144,177 (922)
2004 147,639 3,462
2005 151,973 4,334
2006 154,107 2,134
2007 156,010 1,903
2008 157,974 1,964
2009 163,333 5,359
2010 165,494 2,161
2011 169,295 3,801
2012 174,557 5,262
2013 175,496 939