Monday, December 22nd, 2014
Half-True
Forbes
"The Federal Register - which houses all Washington regulations - is 34,000 pages in length and weighs in at more than 340 pounds."

Randy Forbes on Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 in a statement.

Rep. Forbes says Federal Register containing regulations has 34,000 pages, weighs 340 pounds

For Rep. Randy Forbes, government regulation is truly a weighty issue.

"Over the past several years, increasing and complex government regulations have stifled business creation and hindered jobs growth," Forbes, R-4th, wrote in a recent blog post.

"The Federal Register - which houses all Washington regulations - is 34,000 pages in length and weighs in at more than 340 pounds," the congressman said.

The Federal Register, which lists government agencies’ new regulations, proposed rules, and presidential papers, comes out every business day.

The National Archives and Records Administration, which helps compile the document, dubs it the "daily newspaper of the federal government." Published on recycled newsprint, it looks like a 8.5-by-11 inch technical manual.

Does it really contain 34,000 pages and weigh more than 340 pounds?  We asked Joe Hack, Forbes’ spokesman, for the sources of the congressman’s claim.

Let’s start with the page count.

Hack sent us a link to a Government Printing Office synopsis of the June 14, 2011 Federal Register, which was published the day Forbes made his claim. The table of contents shows the Federal Register at the end of that day -- not including its table of contents and indexes --  was 34,844 pages. That’s close to what Forbes cited.

The figure is actually the running tally of the number of pages of the register published so far in 2011. Each daily edition is a couple hundred pages. As each business day passes, the size of the annual Federal Register increases.

In 2010, the register totaled 81,405 pages, said Jim Hemphill, the special assistant to the director of the Federal Register.

Although most Americans probably haven’t heard of the register, it's a resource to lawyers, journalists and special interest groups trying to keep tabs on regulations. U.S. agencies use it to publish proposed regulations and solicit public comments on them.

So how much does the Federal Register weigh? Although Hemphill could readily provide its size in pages, he wasn’t aware of anyone ever trying to measure it by the pound.

Hack, Forbes’ spokesman, provided the formula his boss used to back up his claim that the register would tip the scale at more than 340 pounds. He sent us a link to a website from an agency within the Department of Energy that states a 500-sheet ream of standard office paper weighs 5 pounds.

That means if you print it out, the 34,000 pages of the Federal Register would require 68 reams of paper, which would weigh a total of 340 pounds, Hack said.

Actual PDF copies of each daily Federal Register are available on the National Archives website and can be printed out. If that was done with each page printed on a single sheet of paper, it would come out to the weight that Forbes cited.

But there’s a critical flaw in the congressman’s calculations.  

The published copy of the Federal Register prints pages on both the front and back of each sheet of paper. So the 34,000 pages would be published on 17,000 sheets.

Therefore the weight would be less than 340 pounds.

We were not in a position to haul 34,000 of pages of the register to a scale, so we devised a way to estimate the register’s weight. We went to the Library of Virginia, got a copy of the May 11, 2011 edition, and asked a librarian to weigh it in the the mail room.

The 399-page edition -- complete with a title page, table of contents and index -- came in at 1 pound, 3 ounces.

We then turned to an overall tally of all daily Federal Registers for 2011 up to and including June 14 - the day Forbes made his statement.  

When we included the pages for tables of contents, title page and index for each daily edition we found there have been about 35,850 pages published so far this year. With every 399 pages coming out to 1 pound, 3 ounces, that means that those nearly 36,000 pages would weigh about 106.7 pounds - less than a third of the weight Forbes cited.

So Forbes was close on the overall page count - actually underestimating it - but wrong on the weight total.

Let’s turn to Forbes’ implication, that all those pages are evidence of regulation run amok.

The register’s annual page count over the past 20 years had generally been on the rise. But there’s disagreement on whether its growth is a meaningful gauge of government oversight.

"I think as a very broad measure it indicates that there is more regulatory activity now than in the past," said James Gattuso, a senior fellow in regulatory policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It’s the most popular measure people cite."

But Peter Van Doren, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, is dismissive of linking the register’s size to the amount of regulations. Not everything published in the document, he noted, are regulations.

"So the GSA (General Services Administration) says we need an office building and it needs to be built by these specs. All that’s in the Federal Register. That’s not what I think people mean by calling something ’regulations,’" Van Doren said. "Depending on one’s politics and one’s views ... people use the number of pages in the Federal Register as a weapon in political discourse."

Of the 81,405 pages published in 2010, 46,758 were dedicated to rules or proposed rules. Another 34,306 pages contained notices of federal agency hearings, meetings, investigations, decisions and the like. And 611 pages were presidential documents - things like executive orders and presidential proclamations.

To recap:

To argue that regulation is out of control, Forbes said the Federal Register came to 34,000 pages and weighed 340 pounds.

The congressman was close on the number of pages, slightly underestimating them. But he greatly overstated the Federal Register’s weight by failing to realize that its pages are printed on both sides of paper. And we would point out that less than 60 percent of the register’s pages last year contained regulations.

We rate Forbes’ claim Half True.