Federal Regulatory History

A how-to guide explaining how to research the history of a federal regulation.


Step One: Find the regulation

The first step in creating a regulatory history is finding the regulation.  The Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of federal regulations.  Before publication in the CFR, a federal regulation will first be published in the Federal Register which contains most routine publications and public notices of government agencies.

The CFR is available in a variety of sources.  It is found in both Lexis and WestLaw, Heinonline, in print, and some years for free at a number of Internet websites.

Step Two: Locate the "Source" note

Once you have found the passage in the CFR from your citation look for the "Source" note.  Normally, this is at the beginning of the CFR part or in brackets after the relevant section.  This source notes gives the citation to the Federal Register which gives the history of the regulation.

Note the illustration from a CFR passage on the right.  According to this section of the regulatory code, prior history can be found in 53 FR 34655.  This is a citation to the Federal Register.  The Federal Register, much like the CFR, is available from a variety of sources.

Step Three: Note the rulemaking docket number

In the Federal Register there should be a citation in the beginning of the section which gives a docket number of the agency involved.  This should look something like "[MD Docket No. 96-186; FCC 97-215]" or "[CGD 90-071a]" with the agency's abbreviation proceeding the docket number.  Other documents such as an Environment Impact Statement or Economic Analyses may be included in the agency's docket.   To acquire these materials, go to the corresponding agency's website to see if they make this information available.  Not all regulatory agencies make their dockets available through their websites, and may charge fees when requesting this information directly.

Step Four: Locate agency's docket and its associated materials

Once you have the agency's docket number you can then begin to search for these materials.  As mentioned previously, some agencies host these documents on their websites and others do not.  Also, an agency may be required through the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) to provide these documents, however, they are not obligated to provide them at no cost.

If you are dealing with an older regulation, one without contact information, or the contact information is out of date please contact a Research Services librarian.  If may be necessary to call the respective agency to get these documents.

Subject Guide