Will rules never stop, for law's sake?

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Will rules never stop, for law's sake?

Apr 26, 2007 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, PhD

Founder and Former President

Heritage Trustee since 1973 | Heritage President from 1977 to 2013

Some jobs are harder than others: selling snowshoes in Jamaica, for instance, or swimsuits in the Antarctic. Yet, either of those jobs would be a snap compared with selling paper products to Congress.

Last year, the Architect of the Capitol needed to buy paper towels and toilet paper for congressional restrooms. Sounds simple. Americans stock up on paper products all the time. But in Washington, D.C., nothing's that easy.

Before buying anything, the architect's office had to describe specifically what it wanted and how the products should be delivered. Federal requirements stipulate that "the minimum thickness of 12 single plies of the paper towel material provided shall be 0.070 inch when measured under an applied pressure of 0.5 psig.''

Plus, ''the rate of absorption of paper towel material provided shall not be greater than 20 seconds for the absorption 0.1 milliliter of water on any representative sample of paper towel as submitted.'' Got that? Oh, and for the toilet paper, ''the tissue shall be substantially free from shieves, specks, holes, wrinkles and other imperfections in accordance with the requirement of Interim Federal Specification UU-P-00556K dated January 10, 1978 for Type I, Grade A toilet tissue.'' Nothing but the best will do, apparently.

These requirements filled 32 pages. Oh, and for anyone who hopes to break into the paper-supply business, your government has some helpful advice. ''The contractor is encouraged to submit paper documents, such as offers, letters, or reports, that are printed or copied double-sided on recycled paper and meet minimum content standards.'' Indeed. We wouldn't want to waste any more paper than is necessary.

Of course, paper products matter little in the grand scheme of things. But they're a useful canary in the coal mine of public policy. The trouble they warn of here is that there are, simply, too many federal laws and regulations. The Code of Federal Regulations for 2006 had 144,040 pages.

Consider one of the ways convoluted federal laws and regulations affect your life: through taxes.

As Jeff Schnepper, a licensed CPA with an MBA in finance, wrote in Money magazine a few years ago, ''When the Corporation Trust Co., now known as CCH, first published its Standard Federal Tax Reporter in 1913, the tax law took up a mere 31 pages. As of 2004, it had grown into a whopping 60,044 pages, a 25-volume beast. And it keeps getting bigger and more convoluted each year."

The government passes that complexity on to you.

There are more than 600 tax forms to fill out. The ''short form'' comes with almost 100 pages of instructions. The IRS estimates filling out a complete 1040 form with Schedules A through E will take 44 hours -- an entire work week. And since the average American reports having about 20 hours per week in leisure time, it means the government can claim up to two full weeks of our down time.

No wonder few people do their own taxes these days. And that includes lawmakers. A Heritage Foundation survey of Hill offices concluded that only 22 out of 535 lawmakers filled out their own returns last year. Even the IRS commissioner doesn't do his own taxes.

Haven't we had enough?

It's easy to make fun of the federal over-regulation of our lives, but it's really no laughing matter. Washington makes too many rules and laws that affect too much of our lives. There's simply no way the government can paper over that fact, no matter how many forms it requires.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in Chicago Sun-Times