Federal Register Hits 50,000 Pages

On Friday, the 2010 Federal Register eclipsed the 50,000-page mark with a notice from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Dr. Robert F. Hunt, D.O., had his registration revoked for prescribing anabolic steroids to a patient in a way the DEA does not approve of.

Dr. Hunt was one of eight doctors to lose his registration that day, which allows him to prescribe Schedule II through V controlled substances. The DEA also alleges “‘in some instances,’ he had ‘accepted illicit drugs as payment for these prescriptions.’”

This is a very common DEA railroading tactic, especially for doctors who prescribe pain medications. According to reporting from Reason, such accusations often are proven to be groundless. Time will tell what happens in Dr. Hunt’s case.

As far as the Federal Register is concerned, it stands at 50,842 pages as of August 16. Assuming 250 working days in a year, it is on pace for 80,447 pages. This is barely shy of the Bush administration’s unadjusted page count of 80,700. That was set in 2008 with a flurry of midnight regulations passed shortly before President Bush left office.

President Carter set the record unadjusted page count in his last year in office, with 87,012 pages.

President Bush’s 2008 midnight spree set the all-time record for adjusted page count with 79,435. Adjusted page counts subtract the pages that the Government Printing Office leaves blank each year.

President Obama’s term runs another two years, but many political strategists believe that one or both chambers of Congress could change hands in the November elections.

Getting an early start on lame duck regulating may partly explain why the pace of regulation has become so hectic. Back in March, this year’s Federal Register was on pace for 60,464 pages. Last year’s count was 69,644 pages.

The other factor is agency implementation of the health care and financial regulation bills, which are each over 2,000 pages long. The hundreds of rules required by the bills are just beginning to hit the books, and will add to the Federal Register’s page count for years to come.

Page count is not everything. Sometimes costly rules take up only a page or two. Minor rules can ramble on for dozens of pages. According the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Wayne Crews, America’s current regulatory burden is currently $1.17 trillion – almost as much as Canada’s entire GDP. But this year’s bloated Federal Register page count is one indicator that the burden is increasing.

Real regulatory reform involves much more than trimming the Federal Register’s page count. It would involve a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the regulatory state in each year’s Economic Report of the President. It would involve adding automatic five-year sunsets to all new regulations, unless specifically reauthorized by Congress. In today’s fast-changing economy, sunsets are an easy way to wipe obsolete rules from the books.

President Obama should appoint a bipartisan commission to comb the books for harmful or obsolete regulations. The Committee should present their recommendations for repeal to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment.

The time for this regulatory stimulus package is now. Today’s sky-high regulatory costs are one reason for the economy’s sluggish recovery. Doing business in America becomes more expensive every year, discouraging job-creating entrepreneurship. Keeping Federal Register page counts in check is important. Keeping the contents of those pages in check is even more important. But real regulatory reform involves much, much more.