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Zimmerman's Research Guide


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Federal Register

The Federal Register is the publication-of-record for U.S. government agencies. Most importantly, all new regulations must be published in the Register before they go into effect. Final regulations are subsequently codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Federal Register started publication in 1936 and is published each business day by the Office of the Federal Register. Some law libraries keep the hard copy back several years, and some keep back issues on microfiche, but most just use the following online editions.

  • Free online editions of the Federal Register are available from: FDsys (1994 to present); FindLaw (1995 to 2006); and Justia (2005 to present).
  • Online editions billed on a per-search or per-minute basis are available from:
    • Westlaw (FR-All - 1936 to present; FR - 1981 to present; FR-OLD - 1936 to 1980). Pre-1981 documents come in PDF format, at an additional charge; and
    • Lexis (GENFED;FEDREG), covering July 1, 1980 to present.

On Lexis and Westlaw, the format for pulling Federal Register sections is "56 fr 16048".

Indexing: The Register includes a cumulative monthly index arranged by agency, with the December index covering the entire year. For subject indexing, the CIS Federal Register Index covers 1984 to 1998. Otherwise, search a full-text database (for recent regs) or try to locate relevant regulations in a CCH Reporter (see "Commerce Clearing House"), which would probably give you Federal Register.

Upcoming Issues: If you are asked to find something in the Federal Register but it doesn't seem to be there yet, check to see if the material is scheduled for publication at a future date. The National Archives and Records Administration posts a list of Federal Register Documents on Public Inspection that provides the date new notices and regulations will be published in the Federal Register. If that doesn't work, call the Office of the Federal Register and ask for assistance (202-741-6000).

Note: Once an agency issues regulations there is always some lag time before the regs are published in the Federal Register. The Office of the Federal Register (OFR) is required to published regs within three or four business days after they are received from the agency (1 CFR 17.2), but the agencies generally take a few days to get the regs to the OFR. Generally the whole process takes one to two weeks.

Page Numbers: The Federal Register has only one pagination system; it's the Congressional Record that has two.

Tracking: You can have the Table of Contents of the Federal Register sent to you each day for free. You can set up fee-based alerts on Lexis and Westlaw.

More Information: For more information, see A Research Guide to the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations by Richard J. McKinney.


See Also
Code of Federal Regulations
United States Government Agencies

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2014 Andrew Zimmerman