The issue shouldn't actually be
that complex. We don't need to analyze Gross National Product and
skyrocketing income disparity and our current trade balance: one look
at the United States Code should be enough to convince anyone that
some serious spring cleaning is in order.
The U.S.C., which contains almost
all federal Congressional enactments, is currently 5,759
Constitutions, 74,870 pages and fifty-two titles long. The first of
these is deceptively straightforward, at twenty-seven pages which
mostly define words used throughout the Code. This one is the place
to go if you've ever wondered what the phrase "products of American
fisheries" or the word "person" means (respectively.
Seafood comes at §6,
and humans will just have to wait until §8).
shortest of these is Title 9, which covers Arbitration in eleven
pages and is probably one of the briefest documents pertaining to
arbitration ever published (say
what you will
about mandatory ADR, but
got to love any statute more straightforward and concise than the
subject with which it deals). The longest, by far, is #42, which
comes in at 13,385 pages and contains some things worthwhile, like
the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And some things of more questionable
merit, to say the least,
for Regulatory Barrier Removal Strategies and Implementation."
You read that right - they've apparently taken to spending
money on plans
matters worse, this
with no index, just a four-page list of its one hundred and
I don't trust anything with a table of contents that long2.
the overview is a little staggering - it does tell you where to
find the things you might expect, like Social Security and the Clean
Air Act, but it also contains chapters with intriguingly irrelevant
laws defining the mathematical term "average" (42
for space exploration (somehow, Congress
thought this item
fit better here than in Title 51, which is devoted exclusively to
there are this
individual ideas and policies thrown pell-mell into one document,
it's inevitable that some will be forgotten about and enforcement
will be a complete nightmare.
Don't believe me? Well, let's
hunt up something everyone knows about, that should be fairly easily
accessible. You might suppose that Obamacare, for example, would be a
frequently referenced and therefore clearly marked section. Half of
it is indeed filed under the identifiable if somewhat specious
heading "Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans"
- that is, the second half.
The notorious Act
actually begins at 42 U.S.C. §300gg
assure you is
an actual component of
Title 42 and
not just a random letter-number combination generated
by a hyperactive squirrel scampering across my keyboard. 42
is eight hundred and thirteen pages long, and
deals mostly with health services and partly with drinking water4.
just when it starts resembling a cohesive, orderly piece of
legislation, it disappears like a subterranean river under mountains
of vitally important documents such as those defining the word
"governor" or dedicated to "Soil
Information Assistance for Community Planning and Resource
magically reappears at
it finally gets a proper label.
you do manage to get Congress' copy - which, despite its manifold
faults, can at least be perused in one piece - the entire title
really can to seem like a jigsaw puzzle someone put together wrong.
Also complicating matters is the
sheer number of laws dealing with precisely the same problems under
slightly different headings, and funded out of completely different
sections of this country's coffers. There are chapters 25 and 50,
"Federal Flood Insurance" and "National Flood
Insurance," respectively (admittedly, the former has been all
but repealed - all but the part that costs money, which is still
going strong and still has up to five hundred million dollars at its
disposal). There are chapters 98 and 99, "Ocean Energy Thermal
Conversion Research and Development" and its successor "Ocean
Energy Thermal Conversion," both of which deal with precisely
the same subject, except one of
them covers its territory in nine fairly straightforward sections
the other verbosely provides
desperately needed clarification
on the subject through such enlightening
enactments as yet another
definition of "governor" (over the course of the Title, we are
educated as to the meaning of this word a grand total of eleven
times). And then, of course,
there are "Intergovernmental
Personnel Program," the
closely related "Advisory
Commission on Intergovernmental Relations,"
Cooperation" - these
are much more difficult to ascertain the merits of, however. On the
one hand, the most cursory
examination of the Code reveals the redundancy of a significant
number of statutes, and it seems impossible to believe that this many
federally funded programs could possibly be simultaneously necessary.
On the other, though, the most cursory
examination of the Code
reveals that Congress barely keeps tabs on the laws it passes itself,
and probably needs all the intergovernmental cooperation it can get.
I'll admit, this confusion can
partially be attributed to the fact that half the contents of Title
42 have nothing to do with its stated purpose. There are things such
as "School Lunch Programs" and some scholarship
opportunities that should probably be located in Title 20,
"Education;" there are "Criminal Justice
Identification, Information and Communication" guidelines,
"Community Safety Recidivism Protection," and legislation
pertaining to just about every crime in the calendar5,
which might be more appropriately moved to Title 18, the federal
criminal code - and all this gives one the strange sense that this
title would be more appropriately captioned "Congress' Grand
Article I, Section 8 Grab Bag" than
"Public Health and Welfare," like it is now. But the
problems with the United States Code are too significant to be solved
by mere rearranging or streamlining. Every line in our law that is
not absolutely essential to the fulfillment of federal Constitutional
obligations could be costing taxpayers, and diverting scarce funds
that could otherwise be allocated to necessary and productive
long, we'll hear of the establishment of the Overregulation
Elimination Agency, vested with the power to enforce their
appropriate rule-making, and when we do it will doubtless be located
in Title 42. You heard it here first.
does Adobe Reader, apparently, which took a brave stand against
overreach by "Not Responding" every time I tried to locate any
particular thing inside this Brobdingnagian
document. So I
tried to see
what methods the government itself had come up with to speed the
process along a little, but
got problems of their own:
believe everything you hear on the news: this right
here is the real
reason why Congress didn't repeal the "Affordable" Care Act when
it got the chance. Once you've managed to find a place for the darned
thing and fit it snugly into what has to be the most complicated
single law ever promulgated, who would have the heart to take it out
re-number everything that comes after it?
though it deals with some of the same subject matter, it is
definitely not to be confused with "Water Resources
Planning," "Water Resources Research,"
"Secure Water," or Title 33, which deals
mainly with "Navigable Waterways." I
wasn't actually even looking for our nation's policy on H2O,
but suddenly I'm drowning in a veritable sea of
surplusage - I suppose next time I need something from the Code,
I'll just wait until the clouds roll back and the waters part.
5 This expression is truly quite baffling, if you think about it too hard. I mean, we've all seen planners adorned with pictures of tropical beaches or flower-themed date books, but have you ever encountered a fifty-two week Gregorian crime calendar? I didn't think so.