Patrick Durusau: Bipartisan Proposal to Eliminate Indexes for the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations

Lambert here: Why, it’s almost like the political class don’t want you to be able to find out what it’s doing! (Either that or less, or more, cynically, they’re creating an opportunity for a private entity to create the FR and CFR indexes using a subscription model because markets. Which amounts to the same thing.) This potential crapification of citizens’ access to the law is part and parcel with the St. Louis Fed’s recent wanton and deceitful destruction of FRED. In the minds of our overlords, there’s no more reason for mere citizens to have free access to professional graphic tools for economic data with FRED than there is for them to have access to Federal rules and regulations. When there’s something you need to know, they’ll tell you.

* * *

By Patrick Durusau, who consults on semantic integration and edits standards. Durusau is convener of JTC 1 SC 34/WG 3, co-editor of 13250-1 and 13250-5 (Topic Maps Introduction and Reference Model, respectively), and editor of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard at OASIS and ISO (ISO/IEC 26300). Originally published at Another Word for It.

I don’t think I have ever posted with (Pls Read, Forward, Act) in the headline, but this merits it.

From the post:

Please see the following message from Emily Feltren, Director of Government Relations for AALL, and contact her if you have any examples to share.

Hi Advocates—

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reported out HR 4195, the Federal Register Modernization Act (Sponsored by Rep. Darrell E. Issa [R-CA-49], and co-sponsored by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings [D-MD-7] and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly [D-VA-11]). The bill, introduced the night before the mark up, changes the requirement to print the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations to “publish” them, eliminates the statutory requirement that the CFR be printed and bound, and eliminates the requirement to produce an index to the Federal Register and CFR. The Administrative Committee of the Federal Register governs how the FR and CFR are published and distributed to the public, and will continue to do so.

While the entire bill is troubling, I most urgently need examples of why the Federal Register and CFR indexes are useful and how you use them. Stories in the next week would be of the most benefit, but later examples will help, too. I already have a few excellent examples from our Print Usage Resource Log – thanks to all of you who submitted entries! But the more cases I can point to, the better.

Interestingly, the Office of the Federal Register itself touted the usefulness of its index when it announced the retooled index last year:

Thanks in advance for your help!

Emily Feltren
Director of Government Relations

American Association of Law Libraries

25 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 500

Washington, D.C. 20001


This is seriously bad news so I decided to look up the details.

Federal Register

Title 44, Section 1504 Federal Register, currently reads in part:

Documents required or authorized to be published by section 1505 of this title shall be printed and distributed immediately by the Government Printing Office in a serial publication designated the ”Federal Register.” The Public Printer shall make available the facilities of the Government Printing Office for the prompt printing and distribution of the Federal Register in the manner and at the times required by this chapter and the regulations prescribed under it. The contents of the daily issues shall be indexed and shall comprise all documents, required or authorized to be published, filed with the Office of the Federal Register up to the time of the day immediately preceding the day of distribution fixed by regulations under this chapter. (emphasis added)

By comparison, H.R. 4195 — 113th Congress (2013-2014) reads in relevant part:

The Public Printer shall make available the facilities of the Government Printing Office for the prompt publication of the Federal Register in the manner and at the times required by this chapter and the regulations prescribed under it. (Missing index language here.) The contents of the daily issues shall constitute all documents, required or authorized to be published, filed with the Office of the Federal Register up to the time of the day immediately preceding the day of publication fixed by regulations under this chapter.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs)

Title 44, Section 1510 Code of Federal Regulations, currently reads in part:

(b) (b) A codification published under subsection (a) of this section shall be printed and bound in permanent form and shall be designated as the ”Code of Federal Regulations.” The Administrative Committee shall regulate the binding of the printed codifications into separate books with a view to practical usefulness and economical manufacture. Each book shall contain an explanation of its coverage and other aids to users that the Administrative Committee may require. A general index to the entire Code of Federal Regulations shall be separately printed and bound. (emphasis added)

By comparison, H.R. 4195 — 113th Congress (2013-2014) reads in relevant part:

(b) Code of Federal Regulations.–A codification prepared under subsection (a) of this section shall be published and shall be designated as the `Code of Federal Regulations’. The Administrative Committee shall regulate the manner and forms of publishing this codification. (Missing index language here.)

I would say that indexes for the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations are history should this bill pass as written.

Is this a problem?

Consider the task of tracking the number of pages in the Federal Register versus the pages in the Code of Federal Regulations that may be impacted:

Federal Register – > 70,000 pages per year.

The page count for final general and permanent rules in the 50-title CFR seems less dramatic than that of the oft-cited Federal Register, which now tops 70,000 pages each year (it stood at 79,311 pages at year-end 2013, the fourth-highest level ever). The Federal Register contains lots of material besides final rules. (emphasis added) (New Data: Code of Federal Regulations Expanding, Faster Pace under Obama by Wayne Crews.)

Code of Federal Regulations – 175,496 pages (2013) plus 1,170 page index.

Now, new data from the National Archives shows that the CFR stands at 175,496 at year-end 2013, including the 1,170-page index. (emphasis added) (New Data: Code of Federal Regulations Expanding, Faster Pace under Obama by Wayne Crews.)

The bottom line is there are 175,496 pages being impacted by more than 70,000 pages per year, published in a week-day publication.

We don’t need indexes to access that material?

Congress, I don’t think “access” means what you think it means.

PS: As a research guide, you are unlikely to do better than: A Research Guide to the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations by Richard J. McKinney at the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, DC website.

I first saw this in a tweet by Aaron Kirschenfeld.

* * *

Lambert here: Do consider calling your elected Representatives and telling them to deep six HR 4195. You might remind them that Obama promised the “most transparent administration in history”. How gutting the finding aids for 70,000 + 175,496 = 245,496 pages per year of dense legal and regulatory material fits in with that goal is, at best, an open question. What’s next to go? The table of contents? Why not?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Thorstein

    The creation of paper indices (and their digital cf cousins including Topic Maps and RDF) employs tens of thousands of technical editors world-wide. Many more certified legal and technical librarians use these indices, often combined with Boolean online search systems, to retrieve critical documents for important individuals who are personally unable to search public records using online tools like e-CFR and–the tools common citizens must use.

    Three years ago, when I retired from the search engine business, indexers and librarians were still arguing that indices, Topic Maps, and RDF allowed them to efficiently index and find relevant documents that could not be found with search engines like Google. Indices were required, they said, because search engines couldn’t understand synonymy relations among search terms. That argument is now plainly obsolete.

    Don’t get me wrong. I *like* librarians and editors (well, most of them), but it’s hard to see how a 70,000 page index trumps a 70 million-term inverted index that is augmented with modern technologies like SVD and robust association rules. I don’t trust Issa one bit, but this bill looks to me like a management strategy to cut production costs, not an attempt to hide public records information from common citizens.

    1. Patrick Durusau


      Err, the Federal Register is 70,000 pages a year, not 70,000 pages of index. Just to be clear.

      I use inverted indexes and even create them but they are a far cry from being a professionally created index.

      In part because the editorial process that creates an index that includes pointers to information that to a lay person would not think to look for. As well as indexing the content in multiple ways, not just by the terms in the content.

      Let’s assume that proposed regulations are pursuant to a bill passed by Congress and so all regulations refer to those bills. But in order to find a regulation that modifies indexing of federal publications, I will have to either know the name of the bill or the statute under which it would appear. Yes? I have something of an advantage in that regard being a professional researcher and having a law degree. But more lay people don’t have that background.

      With an index, if the legislation we are talking about passes, they could look up “indexing” for example, and get pointers to the bill, which could lead them to the members of Congress who introduced it and other information.

      For any sufficiently skilled researcher, indexes remain important as time savers, although most of us could duplicate some of the advantages of an index.

      For lay people, voters I think they are called, the regulations are already arcane.

      Without indices, they will be hidden as well.

      Hope you are having a great day!


    2. Charlton Butler Jr

      To one, Thorstein, while I may agree that it’s a cost savings I say it’s also a means to screw things up to and only that much better if by accident. A paper index gives you a manner of association that you may not think of and allows you to search for the right idea, having used the law library a lot, you may never think of the right combo of words but seeing them in the index helps you formulate other ways to think of the problem. Most important they are a means of physical comparison and a sort of checking method in reverse. My opinion. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a the law without indexes.

  2. TarheelDem

    This is Issa’s committee. The text was dropped suddenly on the committee for mark-up. It is likely that not all members of the committee have staff who have read the draft. And the way that the change is presented is as an omission instead of an explicit change. I’m not sure that any folks outside of the ones moving the bill know what is going on.

    That said, do call members of the committee and members of the House. The idea that we now would make all regulations effectively unsearchable to ordinary citizens (which advantaged professionals who work with the CFR) effectively makes all regulations secret except for those with enough money to fund a search.

    This is just pure sabotage of the system of regulation. Is there no one who can beat Darrell Issa?

  3. diptherio

    Just went and looked at the new FRED. It’s ridiculous. I clicked on “all data series” and got a list of about 25 series. That deserves a protest as well.

  4. EconCCX

    @Lambert the St. Louis Fed’s recent wanton and deceitful destruction of FRED.

    Any more particulars to support this claim? The linked blog makes a far milder one. Is it merely that FRED will no longer generate a data graphic on the fly each time a visitor lights upon a blog page that embeds the former API code? Or has there been an absolute withdrawal of public data access, graphing capabilities or permissions for researchers?

    @diptherio, seeing your comment but still unclear as to what has been lost.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Did you read the link?

      Even most disconcerting, we warned St. Louis Federal Reserve this would happen and were promised the old, professional graphing system and API would remain in place for legacy use. We showed them web developer test results, pointed out the many issues with their plan and slow technology, to no avail. In essence, we were blown off.

      Now the site is destroyed. We’re terribly sorry. We were told ages ago the API would not change and the way we using FRED was acceptable. Even though our technical expertise was ignored, we were promised by the St. Louis Federal Reserve they would not change the graphing system for existing graphs. Thus, we were caught off guard with way too many articles utilizing FRED.

      FRED was a free public service offered by the Federal Reserve, and we were most grateful for it. Fred used to be the most professional graphing system on the web and was a great resource for many economic sites and economists, not just ours. One could create professional graphs, easily access most economic data series, code, customize and calculate new graphs, on the fly. We utilized FRED because there was no other way to generate graphs to illustrate our economic observations that quickly. For us to generate optimized images that quickly, the only other option was to build such a system ourselves. The old FRED enabled us to publish articles with illustrations in record time. With the old FRED system, we could generate new graphs in under one minute that loaded in milliseconds from the Saint Louis Reserve servers.

      Now it is gone, destroyed, blown away and so is our site.

      For all of our readers who say never trust the Fed, well, turns out you were right.

      That sounds wanton and deceitful to me.

      1. EconCCX

        Did you read the link?

        I did. The blogger is understandably pained that his site can’t load FRED graphic renditions dynamically via API as it previously did, and that he didn’t script the 7000 or so screen grabs that would have enabled him to display those charts as images.

        But it is his own site that he sees as destroyed, not FRED. If this site’s depiction of the changes at FRED was slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect, no biggie. I’m merely looking to pin down the substance of those changes to determine whether our research capabilities have truly taken a hit.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Wanton and deceitful it is. Perhaps I should have qualified “destruction.” I’m coming from the software perspective where a large firm that wishes to destroy or exploit the work of an “ecosystem” will change its API. It looks to me like that’s what happened here.

    2. diptherio

      From what I can tell, you no longer have access to the complete data series with (for instance) income breakdowns by sector. It also doesn’t appear that you can manipulate the data series like you used to be able to do. It’s a plastic kiddie-toy version of what it used to be, from what I can see.

      1. diptherio

        I have to take that back. All the data does appear to be there and you can apply transformations. It just looks and functions differently than the old version. Not as bad as I though upon quick inspection, but the removal of legacy support is still a major stick-in-the-eye maneuver.

        1. EconCCX

          Thanks, @diptherio. That’s what I was hoping to hear, with sympathies to the unfortunate Populist and his readers.

  5. Wiliam Neil

    I don’t like the smell of it. While I don’t have recent first hand experience with the sources above, it is interesting to note that “The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report” authorized edition, final report which came out in January of 2011 did not have an index. They made it available online however, pages 547-566. It doesn’t fit very well inside the much smaller volume. But my index is well marked up, and I used it to quickly get to the whistleblower accounts and other very sensitive sections. There is a big rectangular box of my drawing around the “Countrywide” references. And useful to refer back as ongoing news may require.

    During my days as an environmental lobbyist in New Jersey, the NJ Register was a subscriber only service with a price tag in the hundreds of dollars. Sure, libraries had copies, but that’s an extra time and cost on citizen activists trying to cover – and dig.

  6. Bill Wolfe

    The index is a useful tool to follow regulatory activity of specific agencies – i.e. I follow EPA or ATSDR – without having to wade through each Federal Register to find the needle in the haystack.

    Elimination of the index will make it more time consuming and difficult for the public to do so, and result in many people missing important regulatory activity.

    But, well staffed and resourced consultants, law firms, and industry groups will not be impacted, as they have the time and skills to manage.

    We should be doing everything possible to make the regulatory arena more transparent and accessible to the public. This seems to be the opposite of all that.

    Another Bad idea, from the people who would like to abolish regulatory activity all together!

    Bill Wolfe. Director
    (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

Comments are closed.