Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Researching Federal, State and Local Regulations: Federal Regulations

This guide will introduce the user to resources used in researching federal, state, and local regulations.

Agency Directories

Rulemaking Power

Congress transfers legislative authority to agencies under the delegation doctrine.  Rulemaking is one of the main functions of agencies.  Administrative rules (also known as regulations) are adopted by agencies and considered primary legal authority.  The process of rule making is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act and requires the publication of proposed rules, a period for comment, participation in decision making, and the adoption and publication of final rules.  

Finding Regulations (Rules)

Federal regulations can located in many ways, such as using references in secondary sources and through cross-references from statutes to regulations in an annotated code. Individual agency websites are also generally excellent places to find their relevant regulations and proposed regulations. In addition, several reliable online sources can be searched in various ways. These sources include the large commercial database vendors (passwords required), LexisNexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg, and federal government has several free resources the research can use to find regulations, including FDSys, Regulations.gov, eCFR, and Congress.gov.  

The Federal Register

The Federal Register (F.R.) has been the official daily publication of the executive branch since 1936. It includes a variety of information about agency activities (such as notices, meetings, proposed and final regulations, and Presidential executive orders and proclamations). Proposed and final regulations are accompanied by extensive explanation and background about the purpose of the action and the comments received. This information is often useful in interpreting regulations, in the same way that legislative history is used to interpret statutes. For help with using the Federal Register, visit the National Archives’ tutorial page The Federal Register: What It Is and How to Use It.

The full text of the Federal Register may be found electronically through a variety of sources.  The are listed below.  

The Code of Federal Regulations

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the annual codification of the final rules published in theFederal Register. The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad subject areas. Title 3 of the CFR contains presidential proclamations, executive orders, and other presidential documents that are required to be published in the Federal Register. Each title is revised once a year officially; the cover of each print booklet indicates the date of last revision. Electronic versions are updated more frequently.  The CFR can be found online via commercial databases and freely available on government websites.  

Administrative Decisions

Administrative agencies also have quasi-judicial and enforcement functions, and conduct hearings and issue decisions through administrative law judges. The procedures and publication of these activities varies widely. This information is not included in the Federal Register, but may be referenced there. Like federal rules and regulations, these agency decisions are available in several different places: officially published reports of decisions; commercial databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw; agency websites; and looseleaf services. Publication of administrative decisions is more fragmented than rules and regulations, and there is no one place where all such decisions are located.

Official publications from the agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission Decisions, resemble standard court reporters. Table 1.2 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (UMLAW Reference KF 245.U54 2015) lists the official and commercial publications covering administrative adjudications, interpretations, and opinions of the major federal regulatory agencies.

HeinOnline has digitized many official sources for administrative decisions in its U.S. Federal Agency Documents, Decisions and Appeals Library, with most dating back to volume 1 for the publication.  Other commercial databases, such as LexisNexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg provide access to administrative decisions as well.

The public website of a particular agency may also contain the full text of its decisions. A list of available agency materials is maintained by the University of Virginia. 

Designed to compensate for the delay in official publication of agency decisions and the lack of comprehensive indexing, looseleaf and electronic services publish administrative decisions in their subject areas. The URSUS catalog will help the researcher location our print CCH collection, while our online CCH services can be found through IntelliConnect. The researcher may also find the secondary sources on Bloomberg BNA or through Bloomberg Law helpful in locating administrative decisions.   

Presidential Materials

The President of the United States issues a wide variety of documents, including executive orders and proclamations, messages to Congress, agency reorganization plans, and miscellaneous speeches, remarks, and letters. Many of these materials are included in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations, and are also compiled into other publications.

Executive orders and proclamations are issued by the President and have legal effect. Although there is no legal difference between the two, proclamations are generally used to announce special events, such as Earth Day, and executive orders govern and direct agency activities.

Executive orders and proclamations are initially published in the Federal Register and the Daily (formerlyWeeklyCompilation of Presidential Documents. They are compiled annually in Title 3 of the CFR and into the Public Papers of the Presidents. Proclamations are also published in Statutes at Large and United States Code Congressional and Administrative News.

Individual executive orders and proclamations may be found online through a variety of sources.  The same is true for the Compilations of Presidential Documents.  The resources are listed below.