July 15, 2020 – Agency rules are not mere suggestions or advice for regulated individuals and entities. Rather, these rules have the force and effect of law, often carry severe penalties for their violation, and govern a wide swath of contemporary society, including everything from building codes to farming practices to employee wages.1
Regulations.gov provides resources for Federal regulations and related documents. On this website, users can search for rules, comments, and supporting documents, or browse by category. While it’s buried under the “help” tab, the site’s FAQ is a useful source. In addition, the “learn” tab explains the regulatory process.
Once a user is on a webpage for a Rule, they find a summary, the effective date, and deadlines and opportunities to comment. They can view a PDF of the Federal Register page where the Rule appears, contact information, and supplementary information, such as an executive summary or reasons for the Rule.
In the Docket folder users find primary documents and the opportunity to sign up for email alerts. As of July 2020, a beta version of the website is also available with “enhanced search capabilities, a simplified commenting process, and a brand new design to improve the user experience.”
Another site is reginfo.gov from the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Users have a variety of information waiting for them on the site’s homepage: a bar chart featuring agencies with the most regulatory actions currently under review, a pie chart with pending actions by rule state (pre-rule, proposed, interim, final), and the RegMap which breaks out the informal rulemaking process.
Beth Bland is a library associate at the Milwaukee County Law Library. She is a member of the Law Librarians Association (LLAW). LLAW's Public Relations Committee coordinates regular contributions by its members to InsideTrack.
Across the top of the page are easy-to-use tabs to the Unified Agenda (current and historical), the Regulatory Review dashboard (listing all actions currently under review), the Information Collection Review (ICR) dashboard (where users can search current and historical data on ICR), a FAQ, and Related Resources tab.
One might wonder what the difference is between this site and regulations.gov. According to RegInfo’s FAQ, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs reviews drafted proposals and final regulations, and RegInfo displays the status of those actions. Drafted documents aren’t available for public release during the review process. In contrast, regulations.gov allows the public to review and comment on published regulatory actions.
The National Archives’ Federal Register is the “Daily Journal of the United States Government.” On the homepage, users can view the current issue of the Federal Register and search previous issues back to 1994.
Earlier issues may be available through the Library of Congress and National Archives websites, govinfo.gov, or through a local depository library. Other useful sections include Popular Documents, Presidential Documents, and Exploring Agencies. Users can sign up for an account in “My FR” to save documents, track comments, and create subscriptions.
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) website is hosted by govinfo.gov. On this website, users can search the CFR back to 1996. As with the Federal Register, earlier editions may be found through the Library of Congress or National Archives websites or a local depository library.
The site also provides a link to the eCFR, which is the regularly updated online version of the CFR. Near the bottom of the page, users find links to a List of CFR Sections Affected, links to websites mentioned earlier in this article, Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules, and an option to purchase individual print CFR titles.
The Wisconsin Legislature’s administrative rules website features access to the current and archived Administrative Code and Administrative Register, as well as a Rules Calendar (hearings and comment periods), opportunities for public comments, and a subject index to the Administrative Code.
Users can sign up for notifications based on keywords or on specific proposals, as well as receive hearing notices, follow certain legislative authors, or get administrative rules notices by agency or chapter.
Conclusion: The Effect of Laws
Regulations are important to understand because they have the force and effect of law just as federal statutes do. These websites, by laying out the details of how we go about following the laws passed by Congress and picking up the basics of how to trace a federal regulation, help researchers not only find the statutory authority, but also learn more about its origins and history.2
1 J. Wesley Webendorfer, Challenging A State Agency Regulation. Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, November 2017.
2 Barbara Bavis, How to Trace Federal Regulations – A Research Guide. Library of Congress Law Library Blog, Nov. 25, 2014.