FACT CHECK: Have Federal Regulations Increased Ninefold Since 1960?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

President Donald Trump claimed Thursday that the page count of federal regulations has increased over ninefold since 1960.

“In 1960, there were approximately 20,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations,” said Trump during remarks at the White House. “Today, there are over 185,000 pages.”

Verdict: True

Pages in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) illustrate how federal rules – some of which don’t impact businesses – have grown over time.

Fact Check:

The CFR is the collection of all final rules and regulations issued by federal agencies. Historical tables produced by the Office of the Federal Register show how these rules have grown in recent decades.

The steady increase can largely be attributed to the enactment of major pieces of legislation since 1960, including health and environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, but also the creation of new government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

To illustrate just how much has changed since 1960, the White House displayed giant stacks of paper to represent every page of federal regulations – then and now.

“Every unnecessary page in these stacks represents [a] hidden tax and harmful burdens to American workers and to American businesses,” Trump said during his remarks.

Dramatic optics such as these certainly make a point; after all, Dodd-Frank alone resulted in over 22,000 pages of regulation.

Yet experts call the length of the CFR an “imperfect measure” of regulatory burden.

“When thinking about the existing stock of rules – all those 180,000 or so pages – it should be noted that some of the costs of existing rules are effectively nil today,” Cary Coglianese, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Coglianese pointed to rules on seat belts as one example of a mandate that auto companies have long complied with and consumers have come to expect. “They sit there in the CFR, but everyone in an industry has already adapted to them and they no longer impose any real costs,” said Coglianese.

Many pages in the CFR don’t have very much relevance today either. A 2015 scrub of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations, for example, found that “much of the information set out in certain regulations regarding HHS’s programs and activities is obsolete.”

“The agencies don’t do a very good job of removing outmoded rules from the CFR so it keeps growing,” Jeffrey Lubbers, professor of administrative law at American University, told TheDCNF.

Some of the rules in the CFR aren’t costs imposed on businesses at all. Lubbers pointed us to regulations stemming from the Paperwork Reduction Act and Freedom of Information Act as examples of “procedural” rules that largely govern how agencies, not businesses, must behave.

There are many other procedural rules on government contracting, procurement and ethics codified in the CFR. Experts argue there are better indicators of regulatory burden as a result.

“The truly meaningful measure of burdens would be estimates of their costs,” said Coglianese.

The most authoritative estimates come from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which measures the total costs and benefits of all major rules issued in the last decade. OMB estimated in 2016 costs of up to $110 billion a year and benefits of up to $872 billion a year.

Critics have come up with significantly higher cost estimates, however, arguing that government analyses are incomplete and fail to fully account for how regulation impacts economic growth.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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