Red Tapeworm 2014: Thousands of Federal Register Pages

This is Part 9 of a series taking a walk through some sections of Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State (2014 Edition)

The Federal Register is the daily depository of all proposed and final federal rules and regulations. The number of pages in the Federal Register is likely the most frequently cited measure of regulation’s scope.

Problems abound with relying on page counts alone as a proxy for regulation. Wordiness of rules varies, affecting the number of pages and obscuring the real effects of the underlying rules. A short rule could be costly and a lengthy one relatively cheap.

Furthermore, the Federal Register contains administrative notices, guidance, memoranda, rules relating to the governance of federal programs and budgetary operation, corrections, presidential statements and other material. Blank and skipped pages sometimes appear—in prior decades, they numbered into the thousands owing to the Government Printing Office’s imperfect prediction of the number of pages a given agency would require.

Undocumented regulation abounds, especially given the “pen and phone” stance of a administration that has no problem going around Congress. Obamacare delays and policy changes with respect to non-citizen children happened by blog posts, bulletins, press conferences and waiver memos.  

In addition, any hypothetical effort to reduce regulation and lessen burdens involves agencies’ posting of lengthy notices in the Federal Register. Under the pen and phone era of heavy exercise of executive power, those are not factors now bulking up the publication.

Despite limitations, it remains worthwhile to track the Federal Register’s growth according to its page counts, provided the caveats are kept in mind. Tens of thousands of pages stream from America’s departments, agencies and commissions.

As the nearby chart shows, at year-end of 2013 the number of pages stood at 79,311, which happens to be the fourth-highest level in the history of the Federal Register. Both 2010 and 2011 had been the all-time record years, at 81,405 and 81,247, respectively. The 79,435 count in 2008 under George W. Bush holds the third-highest title. In fact, of five all-time-high Federal Register page counts, four occurred during the Obama administration.

The sixth-highest page count had been 75,606 in 2002.

As of July 20, 2014, the Federal Register stands at 35,423 pages. We appear to be looking at another year of well over 70,000 pages.

After 2002, annual page counts remained above 70,000 until the 2009 dip. Overall, the decade from 2002 to 2013 has seen the annual page count increase by 4.9 percent. (A history of Federal Register page totals since 1936 may be seen here