It was perhaps a fitting celebration for an icon of the federal bureaucracy. At 9 a.m. on March 14—a Tuesday—several hundred federal employees took time out to toast the 70th anniversary of the Federal Register. After an hour of speeches and cake, they went back to work, presumably with some toiling over the regulations and grants disclosed each weekday in the dry but essential publication.
Almost every day, the Register includes submissions from the Department of Education. Notices this month have included, for example, the details for an upcoming meeting of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education and a deadline for a new $17 million grant competition from the department’s office of safe and drug-free schools.
“I look at the Register every day,” said Sarah Snapp, the director of funded programs for the 39,000-student Minneapolis school district. “I see what’s listed for the Department of Education, but I also scan the other agencies for possible grants, such as the National Science Foundation.”
She was not at the Register’s “gala” at the Government Printing Office in Washington because she was at work in her district office, where she said the collection of past Register editions takes up so much space that she is thinking about dropping the subscription and relying solely on the free Web version. Many others have dropped their subscriptions—the current cost is $749 a year—since the Register went online in 1994, says the National Archives and Records Administration, which publishes the Register. The Web address is www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html.
The Federal Register was born out of the explosion in federal regulation during the New Deal era. In 1934, the U.S. Supreme Court was weighing a case involving two oil companies when it realized that they faced sanctions under a rule that didn’t exist on paper anywhere.
“Disorder and chaos was reigning” because of a lack of an organized dissemination of federal rules, U.S. Solicitor Paul D. Clement said at the ceremony last week.
After studying how other countries, particularly Britain, published their bureaucratic rules, Congress in 1935 created the Federal Register. The first issue appeared March 14, 1936. The Register now publishes more than 70,000 pages of text a year.
“It’s interesting when you scan the whole Register for a week,” said Ms. Snapp. “You really get a sense of how many things the federal government is involved in.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2006 edition of Education Week