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.
- 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.
Page Numbers: The Federal Register has only one pagination system; it's the Congressional Record that has two.
Preambles: Starting around 1947, proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register with summaries called "Preambles" either before or after the text of the regulation. Summaries were often published after the text of final regulations in the 1960s, and as of 1973, final regulations include summaries before the text. As of April 1, 1977, the preamble must also include summaries of the comments on the proposed rules received by the agency.
Statement of Considerations: The term "Statement of Considerations" or "SOCs" (pronounced "socks") effectively means the preamble, appendices and other materials that the agency published in the Federal Register before and after proposed and final regulations that created and amended a CFR section. I have heard the term used only with regard to regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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, or on Lexis (requires add-on subscription).
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.
More Information: For more information, see A Research Guide to the Federal Register
and the Code of Federal Regulations by Richard J. McKinney.