The Regulatory Process

This is a selective guide to resources at Columbia University Libraries and on the Internet, for conducting research on the U.S. Federal regulatory process. Most of the print items included are available in Lehman Library.


When Congress passes a law, often it cannot describe every detail of the implementation of that law. Instead, it authorizes various executive departments and agencies to write the rules and regulations which implement the intent of the law. Congress will describe the broad area of regulatory mandate, but the executive agency is responsible for filling in the specifics and administering the regulations, via the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and other administrative decisions.

For a more detailed description and background of the Federal Register and CFR, consult A Research Guide to the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations, prepared by Richard J. McKinney for the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.

Another detailed, useful tool is Tracking Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: a Guide to Basic Sources, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, updated 2010. Also of interest: Analysis of an Estimate of the Total Costs of Federal Regulations, CRS, April 2011.

    The Regulatory Information Service Center has established the REGINFO.GOV site to assist users who want to find information about Federal, state, and local regulation. The Center is a Federal Government office located in the General Services Administration, with responsibility for gathering and publishing information on Federal regulations. The Center provides this information to the President, Congress, agency officials, and the general public to help them better understand and manage the regulatory process.
    • The Reg Map is a chart that gives a detailed overview of the "informal rulemaking" process.
  • is the U.S. Government web site that makes it easier for you to participate in Federal rulemaking - an essential part of the American democratic process. On this site, you can find, review, and submit comments on Federal documents that are open for comment and published in the Federal Register, the Government's legal newspaper. You can also sign up for email alerts and subscribe to RSS feeds.

The Code of Federal Regulations

  • Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Annual. 1936-
    Print version not available.
    S A.3 C642 - Law Microfiche (1938-present)
    Online versions: 1996-present, 1936-present
    The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government. It is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to Federal regulation. Each volume of the CFR is updated once each calendar year and is issued on a quarterly basis.
  • e-CFR: Electronic Code of Federal Regulations
    The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) is a prototype of a currently updated version of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The e-CFR prototype is a demonstration project. It is not an official legal edition of the CFR.
  • List of CFR Sections Affected (LSA). Monthly. 1966-
    Call Number: AE 2.106/2-2:
    The LSA lists proposed, new, and amended Federal regulations that have been published in the Federal Register since the most recent revision date of a CFR title.

The Federal Register

  • Federal Register. Daily. 1936-
    Print version not available.353 Un43 - Offsite (1939-1959)
    AA 158 - Law Microfilm (1950-1983)
    FN 3280 - Offsite Microfilm (1979-1994)
    Online versions: 1994-present, 1936-present
        The Federal Register records the daily activities of executive agencies, including rulings, hearings on proposed regulations, changes in regulations, grant availability and awards, Presidential proclamations, nomenclature changes, and other notices; it also includes a list of CFR sections affected at the end. The Unified Agenda is a wonderful tool for identifying future regulatory actions, by the issuing agency, topic or CFR part affected. Executive Order 12866 and the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 602) require that agencies publish semi-annual regulatory agendas describing regulatory actions they are developing. The agendas are published in the Federal Register, usually during April and October each year.
  • The Federal Register: What It Is and How to Use It.
    AE 2.108:F31/992 - Offsite
  • CIS Federal Register Index. Weekly. 1984-1995.
    KF 70 .A2 - Lehman
  • The Federal Register Index (1936-present)

Other Regulatory Activity

Although the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations are the primary repositories for federal rules and regulations, many agencies also publish their own regulations separately, which can be more convenient. Additionally, there are certain administrative actions which fall outside the scope of the FR and the CFR. Finally, there are other agencies and research groups which monitor and report on federal regulatory activities.