Are Federal Regulations Too Numerous?
Has The Number of Them Multiplied Excessively?

The Code of Federal Regulation (abbreviated CFR) is the collection of regulations passed by Federal agencies in the United States.  The CFR differs from the United States Code, which is the set of presently-enforceable laws that came to be law by votes in Congress.  The various agencies with the power to create laws receive this power through Congress, but Congress does not review the specific regulations passed once an agency has had authority delegated to it.

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at right: the spines of some of the volumes of the CFR as found on the shelves of the Law Library at the Library of Congress when these photographs were shot in October 2008.  Of the fifty “titles” of the CFR — some of which are spread over multiple volumes — most (if not all) of the titles were on the shelf in versions updated in 2007 or 2008.

Viewers of a John Stossel television program on the ABC broadcast network on October 17, 2008, saw Stossel demonstrate that the pages in a single title, when removed from the binding and then attached end to end, rolled out the whole length of a football field and then halfway back again.  (Read story, view video)  The present web page demonstrates just how much shelf space the regulations occupy when the pages are in their binding and on shelves.

The CFR is spread across ten shelves at the Library of Congress.  Specific details follow.


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First shelf: CFR titles 1-5 •
6 inches

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Second shelf: CFR titles 5-12 •
36 inches

Third shelf: CFR titles 12-18 •
34 inches

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Fourth shelf: CFR titles 19-25 •
35.5 inches

Fifth shelf: CFR titles 26-29 •
35.75 inches

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Sixth shelf: CFR titles 29-36 •
35.25 inches

Seventh shelf: CFR titles 36-40 •
35.5 inches

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Eighth shelf: CFR titles 40-44 •
32.25 inches

Ninth shelf: CFR titles 45-49 •
33.5 inches

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Tenth shelf: CFR titles 49-50 •
20.75 inches
Also on the the shelf: the Index volume •
Additional 2 inches (bringing total on the tenth shelf to 22.75 inches)

Total lineage: 304.5 inches — and that doesn’t include the index.

In each book, regulations are in small type, double column, printed on both sides of the page.

In addition to the volumes comprising the specific titles and the one volume of index, there are a number of guide volumes published by private firms.  These are sufficiently numerous that at the Library of Congress, these guide volumes finish off the tenth shelf and occupy most of the next shelf.  Because these books are not unique and not official regulatory information from the U.S. Government, these additiional books are not computed into the total lineage.

Listing of the specific titles of the CFR: 1. General Provisions • 2. Grants and Agreements • 3. The President • 4. Accounts • 5. Administrative Personnel • 6. Domestic Security • 7. Agriculture • 8. Aliens and Nationality • 9. Animals and Animal Products • 10. Energy • 11. Federal Elections • 12. Banks and Banking • 13. Business Credit and Assistance • 14. Aeronautics and Space • 15. Commerce and Foreign Trade • 16. Commercial Practices • 17. Commodity and Securities Exchanges • 18. Conservation of Power and Water Resources • 19. Customs Duties • 20. Employees' Benefits • 21. Food and Drugs • 22. Foreign Relations • 23. Highways • 24. Housing and Urban Development • 25. Indians • 26. Internal Revenue • 27. Alcohol, Tobacco Products and Firearms • 28. Judicial Administration • 29. Labor • 30. Mineral Resources • 31. Money and Finance: Treasury • 32. National Defense • 33. Navigation and Navigable Waters • 34. Education • 35. Panama Canal • 36. Parks, Forests, and Public Property • 37. Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights • 38. Pensions, Bonuses, and Veterans' Relief • 39. Postal Service • 40. Protection of Environment • 41. Public Contracts and Property Management • 42. Public Health • 43. Public Lands: Interior • 44. Emergency Management and Assistance • 45. Public Welfare • 46. Shipping • 47. Telecommunication • 48. Federal Acquisition Regulations System • 49. Transportation • 50. Wildlife and Fisheries.

The texts of all the CFR titles can be read on the internet at a web site of the United States Government: the United States Government Printing Office Online at

How Numerous are the Laws Passed by the United States Congress?

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The United States Code (abbreviated USC) is the collection of laws passed by the United States Congress, minus the ones that have been repealed or superceded.  When the photographs on this page were shot in October 2008, the Law Library at the Library of Congress had year 2000 editions of the USC.  Shown at left are the first two shelves of the USC.  Not shown are the third shelf of the USC (a partial shelf) and space devoted to table volumes, index volume, and supplements in volumes dated 2001 through 2005.

The United States Code occupies this much shelf space:
First shelf (USC titles 1-21): 34.25 inches
Second shelf (USC titles 22-42): 28.75 inches
Third shelf (USC titles 42-49): 10 inches
Table volumes and index: 18.5 inches
Supplement volumes dated 2001 through 2005 are spread over three shelves:
    First shelf of supplements: 5.5 inches
    Second shelf of supplements: 34 inches
    Third shelf of supplements: 13.75 inches

All told, the USC of year 2000 (minus supplements) occupies 73 inches of shelf lineage.

Although the actual amount of space that would be occupied by an up-to-date set of the USC would be more, it would be misleading to add in the lineage taken up by the supplement volumes.  The supplements often substitute new law for old, and there is a great deal of duplicate material where an updated version of a set of statutes contains a small number of revisions relative to a substantial number of subsections that have remained the same.

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An Incredible Contrast

When the laws of the United States were codified as the United States Code in 1925, all of the titles combined occupied a single volume.

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image: Close-up of the book title on the spine of the 1925 USC.

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image: Title page of the 1925 USC.

(Although this page does read in part “Volume 44 - Part 1 of the United States Statutes at Large,” the “Part 1” refers to the place of the USC within the “Statutes at Large” series of book and not to the existence of any additional volumes of the USC.  There is just a single volume of USC in 1925.)

There are 50 numbered titles in the USC just as there are 50 titles in the CFR.  The 50 USC titles do not include ten where letter “A” follows a number already used, which when counted brings the number of titles up to 60.  Incredibly, the numbers for specific subjects do not match.  For example, copyright law is covered by Title 17 in the USC but is Title 37 in the CFR.

The specific titles in the USC are: 1. General Provisions • 2. The Congress • 3. The President • 4. Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the States • 5. Government Organization and Employees • 5A. Government Organization and Employees (Appendix) • 6. Surety Bonds [Repealed] • 7. Agriculture • 8. Aliens and Nationality • 9. Arbitration • 10. Armed Forces • 10A. Armed Forces (Appendix) • 11. Bankruptcy • 11A. Bankruptcy (Appendix) • 12. Banks and Banking • 13. Census • 14. Coast Guard • 15. Commerce and Trade • 16. Conservation • 17. Copyrights • 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure • 18A. Crimes and Criminal Procedure (Appendix) • 19. Customs Duties • 20. Education • 21. Food and Drugs • 22. Foreign Relations and Intercourse • 23. Highways • 24. Hospitals and Asylums • 25. Indians • 26. Internal Revenue Code • 26A. Internal Revenue Code (Appendix) • 27. Intoxicating Liquors • 28. Judiciary and Judicial Procedure • 28A. Judiciary and Judicial Procedure (Appendix) • 29. Labor • 30. Mineral Lands and Mining • 31. Money and Finance • 32. National Guard • 33. Navigation and Navigable Waters • 34. Navy [Repealed] • 35. Patents • 36. Patriotic and National Observances, Ceremonies, and Organizations • 37. Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services • 38. Veterans' Benefits • 38A. Veterans' Benefits (Appendix) • 39. Postal Service • 40. Public Buildings, Property, and Works • 40A. Public Buildings, Property, and Works (Appendix) • 41. Public Contracts • 42. the Public Health and Welfare • 43. Public Lands • 44. Public Printing and Documents • 45. Railroads • 46. Shipping • 46A. Shipping (Appendix) • 47. Telegraphs, Telephones, and Radiotelegraphs • 48. Territories and Insular Possessions • 49. Transportation • 50. War and National Defense • 50A. War and National Defense (Appendix).

The texts of all the USC titles can be read on the internet at a web site of the United States Government: the United States Government Printing Office Online at

Want a Better Picture of How New Law Modifies Pre-existing Law? in its “law” section allows visitors to see the text of Title 17 of the USC (the copyright law) in its every version from 1909 to the present.  Two pages at let visitors see through side-by-side comparisons how an entire title transformed over several decades.  In visiting the page, click the light-blue buttons reading “See the Chart for 1909 to 1947” and “See the Chart for 1947 to 1976”.  The pages that come up have tables that show variations in statutes that were law for only part of the time span represented on the particular page.  Also available on the site, at, are the texts of every bill passed into law by Congress which amended Title 17.

This page © 2008 David P. Hayes