Regulations in Pages
Researchers recognize that there are a number of problems relying on pages* in the Federal Register. It is not a good indicator of the state-federal relationship alone. There are short but costly rules, for example, while there are also very lengthy rules that do not cost much to enforce. One researcher notes, in a humorous example, that the Federal Register often contains blank pages - sometimes numbering in the thousands. Apparently, this was due to the Government Publishing Office’s “imperfect prediction of the number of pages that agencies would require for publishing their rules” (Crews 2018, 25).
Tracking the number of federal regulations in pages can be a useful starting point for understanding the complicated relationship between the federal government and states over time. Page counts - while obviously a very crude measure - do provide a gross estimate of the sheer size of regulatory activity over the decades.
Federal Register vs. the Code of Federal Regulations
Both the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations are used in this dashboard for measuring regulations in pages. While similar, the two cannot be used interchangeably. The National Archives provides this definition:
"The Federal Register (FR) is the official daily publication for Federal government rules, proposed rules, and notices, as well as executive orders and other Presidential documents. The FR announces ongoing activities of the agencies and notifies you when you can comment on a proposed regulation.
Once a rule is issued in the form of a final regulation, the regulation is then codified when it is incorporated into the Code of Federal Regulations. This is where you can look up any current Federal rule or regulation by number."
According the National Archives, the Federal Register is ordered into four sections:
1) Presidential Documents, including executive orders and proclamations
2) Rules and Regulations, including policy statements and interpretations of rules
3) Proposed Rules, including petitions for rulemaking and other advance proposals
4) Notices, including scheduled hearings and meetings open to the public, grant applications, and administrative orders."
*This graph divides the number of pages into the aforementioned sections.
Types of Documents
Why this measure?
When a rule is classified as a final rule, it means that it has already gone through the revision and review process with OIRA. Once it is published in the Federal Register, the new rule will go into effect after a wait period of 30-60 days.
Proposed rules are published in the Federal Register to allow those interested to participate in the rule making process, give the agency the opportunity the ability to address concerns, and show proposed changes or modifications to existing rules.
This interactive graph examines the number of proposed and final rules published in the Federal Register between 1976-2020. It also differentiates between the number of pages that those rules take up, versus the actual number of proposed and final rules published.
Proposed and Final Rules
Pages Versus Documents of Proposed and Final Rules Published in Federal Register 1976-2022
Each year over 3,000 rules are published in the Federal Register, with a total of over 200,000 rules published since 1976. However, those rules are in various stages such as proposed or final. The first graph helps to highlight how many of those rules are actually final rules, or in other words, rules that are about to go into effect. This is done by contrasting the total number of pages with the percent of pages that are final rules.
With total pages, it is also important to look at how many of those are actual documents versus blank pages (second graph). It is also interesting to note that with the rise of the digital age, the number of blank pages has decreased significantly.
The Code of Federal Regulations consists of rules by federal agencies that have been codified and are in effect. By looking at the number of pages that have been published annually, we can gain a sense of the magnitude of existing regulations which affect businesses, consumers, and other entities.
The following graphs provide another way to visualize the growth of both the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations and how it has changed year by year. It is important to note that not all of the regulations published increase regulatory output - some may actually decrease it - which can make this an imperfect way to measure regulatory outputs. However, this measure is frequently examined as a way to gain a sense of the flow of regulation over time.
% in Pages
1. There were 61,308 pages added in 2017, including blank pages. Analysts have noted that this number is the lowest annual page count since 1993.
2. By one measure, President Donald Trump added 36% less (in “net” page count) than President Barack Obama (comparing 2016 to 2017).
3. President Barack Obama’s 2016 net page count is considered by analysts to be the highest level in the history of the Federal Register.
4. Scholars have compared the magnitude of various increases and decreases in the page count. The highest magnitude page drop occurred under President Ronald Reagan, who reduced the count from President Jimmy Carter’s 73,258 pages in 1980 to 44,812 in 1986.
“Federal Register Process.” open.defense.gov. DoD Open Government | U.S. Department of Defense. Accessed at: https://open.defense.gov/Regulatory-Program/Process/OSDFederalRegisterProcess/.
"Federal Register Statistics." Federal Register. Accessed at: https://www.federalregister.gov/reader-aids/understanding-the-federal-register/federal-register-statistics
Reg Stats. Report. Regulatory Studies Center, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Accessed at: https://regulatorystudies.columbian.gwu.edu/reg-stats
"Federal Register, 1936 to Present." (GovInfo 2019).
"About the Federal Register. " (National Archives).
"Counting Pages of Regulations is a Waste of Time (and Paper) " (Wagner 2018).
The Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University tracks and updates the Reg Stats page. The page includes helpful terminology and an analysis of the advantages and limits of using crude proxies (e.g. page numbers) to understand the scope and impact of regulatory activity.