Regulation in 2020: Some Quick Numbers

The 251st and final issue of the 2020 Federal Register was released this morning. Here are some of the initial findings:

  • Federal agencies issued 3,353 final regulations in 2020. This is up from 2,964 regulations in 2019, or an 11 percent increase.
  • This was the second-highest total of Trump’s presidency, just behind 2018’s total of 3,368.
  • Since 1993, federal agencies have issued 111,065 final regulations.
  • Since 1975, federal agencies have issued 208,155 final regulations.
  • Although the Trump administration claims to have eliminated more than 600 regulations during 2020 as part of an effort to get rid of #NeverNeeded regulations harming the COVID-19 response, few of these went through the proper rulemaking process. This means they were not recorded in the Federal Register. My colleague Alex Reinauer tallied fewer than 60 rules properly removed as of October.
  • That said, removed rules still count as new rules in the Federal Register’s accounting rules. So this year’s rule and page counts capture a modest amount of deregulation, as well as new regulation.
  • Some of President Trump’s most significant increases in regulatory burdens will not show up in The Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register. These include its doubling of tariffs, its immigration restrictions, its threats to regulate political speech, and its antitrust investigations and lawsuits against tech companies, each of which could have billions of dollars of economic impact.
  • Compare this to the $100 million threshold for a regulation to count as “economically significant.”
  • While only five economically significant rules appeared in the 2020 Federal Register, the Trump administration is clearly imposing economically significant regulatory costs through other means.
  • 2020’s unadjusted page count is 87,351 pages. This number will later be adjusted to subtract skipped and blank pages—usually a little less than a thousand pages in recent years. This is the second-longest edition in the Federal Register’s 85-year history, and the largest ever from a Republican administration by a mile—literally.
  • The previous GOP record was 80,700 pages in 2008, George W. Bush’s final year in office. With standard paper size of 11.5 inches in height, President Trump’s final Federal Register is 1.2 miles longer than President Bush’s.
  • The 87,352-page Federal Register would stack more than 7 feet, 3 inches tall. This is two inches taller than NBA great Shaquille O’Neal.
  • Federal agencies issued 22,480 notices in 2020. These are often as innocuous as announcements of upcoming hearings or address changes. But agencies have also used notices to enact significant policy changes without putting them through the required notice-and-comment rulemaking process.
  • One of the Trump administration’s biggest positive regulatory contributions is an executive order directing agencies to be more transparent about their use of guidance documents and prevent their abuse. CEI’s Wayne Crews had spent years promoting this reform. As a result, most federal agencies issued rules in 2020 implementing new guidance document processes.

Wayne Crews and I will have more say about regulation in 2020 soon.

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter. See also neverneeded.cei.org for reform ideas. My article on why 2020, though difficult, was not the worst year ever, is here.