Red Tapeworm 2014: A Record Number of Federal Register Final Rule Pages

This is Part 10 of a series taking a walk through some sections of Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State (2014 Edition)

We’ve noted that a Federal Register pages alone do not satisfactorily reveal the actual extent of regulatory burdens.

After all, a rule of only few pages might impose a significant burden, and a wordy rule might not be a big deal.

Nonetheless the utter heights of the annual page count now, in the high 70,000s and low 80,000s emphatically argue that federal bureaucrats’ hunger is unbounded.

Four of the past five years have set records.

Still, isolating the pages devoted specifically to final rules might be a tad more informative, by omitting pages devoted to proposed rules, agency notices, corrections, nemoranda and presidential documents (although some of those categories have regulatory impacts too that are poorly understood even as they accelerate via “pen,” “phone” and this “year of action”).



The chart nearby shows that between 2012 and 2013, the number of pages devoted to final rules rose by seven percent, from 24,690 to a record-high 26,417.  

The previous record was 26,320 in 2008, after which the number dropped sharply by 21 percent to 20,782 in 2009. This decrease mirrored a drop in total pages between those two years.  

Before 2008, the highest page count up to that time was 24,482 pages back in 2000, the last full year of the Clinton administration. Indeed, this decade’s levels are the highest since the Federal Register page-count breakdown by category was first reported starting in 1976 (I maintain a chart here).

The 2000 count was up by 21 percent over 1999 (possibly partly attributable to an effort by President Clinton to complete a backlog of rules before the arrival of the Bush administration).

The drop from 2000-01 after Clinton’s final year in office was noteworthy in that it resembles the 2008−2009 one we see from Bush to Obama’s first year.

Midnight regulations in the final year are a bi-partisan phenomenon; but so too is the drop and subsequent rise that apparently follows them.

Over the entire decade since 2004, the number of Federal Register pages devoted to final rules has increased by 17.2 percent.

Indeed, except for 2001, 2002 and 2009, the number of final-rule pages has remained above 22,000 annually, in most cases far above. Obama’s page counts in the past four years shown here dominate all the earlier years save 2008.