Red Tapeworm 2014: Number of Proposed and Final Rules in the Federal Register

This is Part 12 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 talked about total pages in the Federal Register, as well as isolated the record number of pages now devoted to final rules.

But the actual numbers of proposed and final rules published in the Federal Register—not just the page counts such rules command—merit close attention.

The chart nearby shows how, in 2013, rules finalized dropped by 1.3 percent, from 3,708 to 3,659. (In a future column we’ll examine some possible reasons for this recent decline). Obama’s first year in office brought 3,503 rules, so the increase since then is four percent.



Rule impacts vary of course, but the number of final rules currently being published is lower than it was throughout the 1990s, when the average number of annual regulations finalized was 4,596 (I track them here), and lower than during the first years depicted here.

The average for the first decade of the 21st century (2000–2009) was 3,945. So the decline in rule numbers is a positive trend, one that policy makers should seek to extend.

Nonetheless, a pace of over 3,000 completed rules annually is highly significant and creates a much ignored cumulative burden, which is compounded if newer rules happen to be particularly onerous in the wake of large-scale laws like Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act.  

More ominous in this regard is the pace of proposed rules appearing in the Federal Register. The 2,594 rules proposed in 2013 (see chart) represent a three percent increase over the 2,517 proposed rules of 2012.

These recent proposed rules, and the 2,898 proposed in 2011, are on the high side compared with the decade as a whole.

High numbers of proposed rules—and the chart shows that Obama’s proposed rule load comfortably exceeds earlier years—signify likely future increases in final rules.

There’s plenty to keep an eye on. For the numbers of proposed and final rules and other documents issued in the Federal Register since 1976, I maintain a tally here.

Red Tapeworm 2014 Series:

  • Part 1: Guess Which Is the Largest Government on Earth?
  • Part 2: Tardy Bureaucrats Gone Wild
  • Part 3: Reckoning the Dollar Cost of Federal Regulation
  • Part 4: Regulations Catching Up to Government Spending?
  • Part 5: Regulations Cost More than Federal Income Taxes
  • Part 6: The Federal Government “Eats” 31 Percent Of The U.S. Economy
  • Part 7: U.S. Regulation Compared to the World’s Largest Economies
  • Part 8: The High Cost of Overcriminalization 
  • Part 9: Thousands of Federal Register Pages
  • Part 10: A Record Number of Federal Register Final Rule Pages
  • Part 11: Federal Register Pages Per Decade