According to a recent report by Ballotpedia, the Federal Register has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few months. As a collection of presidential documents and federal initiatives, the Federal Register is commonly used to gauge how “hands-on” an administration is.
But is this necessarily a good thing? Should we cheer at this unusual productivity? Or is it a sign of the growing power of the Federal Government in national affairs?
What is the Federal Register?
Despite being possibly the most prominent and best-established official journal in the United States, the Federal Register remains obscure for the average citizen. It rarely uses the riveting language or catchy headlines that we are used to seeing on prime time television – although many of the national headlines are reflected on the Register’s pages.
The Federal Register is a collection of all agency rules, proposed rules, regulations, and statements issued by the United States Federal government. This includes highly-publicized executive orders and proclamations but also obscure notices of meetings, adjudications, and tenders.
Every weekday of the year, except federal holidays, new documents make their way to the Register’s latest update.
All editions are accessible online and for free, and all their contents are in the public domain. This means that every line of Federal regulation is available for anybody who wishes to read it – once they know where to find it.
Unprecedented growth: Is this a governmental “crunch period”?
In straightforward terms, the Federal Register offers a precise number measuring the Feds’ productivity: the larger each edition, the harder we can assume each office is working.
But is there a point where speed compromises quality? The size of each new Federal Register edition usually fluctuates daily. Every once in a while, a larger piece of legislation or a package of reforms can double the size of the day’s issue. Yet, if this happens for several days in a row, or if it happens when everything is supposed to have slowed down, it could hide a more significant trend.
An excellent example of this is the holiday season. During the last two weeks of the year, the public eye is focused chiefly on the holidays and end-of-year balances. Many offices, both private and public, close completely or work reduced hours during this period.
Yet, between December 27th and December 31st, 2021, the Federal Register grew by 1,428 pages. This brought the 2021 total to 74,532 pages of documentation.
These pages comprised 427 documents. To be precise, most of them (328) were relatively minor, though incredibly detailed, notices of tenders and adjudications. However, during the last three working days of the year, the Federal Government also published 42 proposed bills and 52 final rules, and five presidential documents.
Implications and warnings
The Federal Register had only grown so large once before – in 2016, during the final days of the Obama Administration.
It is not unusual for a departing president to sign many statements and Executive orders just as they are about to leave office: this is considered their last chance to secure their legacy. Other times, new bills are fast-tracked during this period to protect the systems from expected reforms that the new team will enact.
But 2021 was not an election year. Instead, the bulk of the Federal Register comes in specifications and regulations. It appears Washington D.C. is looking for stricter controls and exacting standards across all departments. Whether this will be a positive or negative remains to be seen.
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