• This guide addresses federal administrative law research in general. Please consult topical research guides for information related to specific subject matter and agency procedures. 

Introduction

Federal administrative law is comprised of rules and regulations promulgated by executive branch agencies, as well as related adjudications, orders, and other agency actions. It also includes executive orders and proclamations. 

Administrative rules and regulations are published sequentially in the Federal Register (FR) and later codified by subject in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Agency case law is available in popular online legal resources (e.g. Westlaw, Lexis), on agency websites, and in specialized agency publications particularly those in looseleaf format or digital equivalent. 

While federal agencies are part of the Executive Branch, they are authorized to act through congressional delegation through statute, commonly referred to as “enabling statutes.” Thus, agencies are limited to taking action within the authority delegated to them in the United States Code. Annotations to the U.S. Code often provide information about related regulations. Researchers may also wish to consult the CFR’s Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules to match U.S. Code provisions with implementing regulations. Agencies are also required to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et. seq. These requirements include providing the public with notice of rulemaking, the text of proposed rules, and the opportunity to comment.

Agency Websites

If is often useful to begin federal administrative law research by visiting the website of the agency with authority to regulate the applicable subject matter. These websites typically provide an overview of the agency’s structure, current regulations, administrative decisions, and guidance documents.

Several reference resources below may be useful to help determine the appropriate agency or agencies that have jurisdiction over the relevant subject matter.  

Reference Resources

Treatises

Finding Regulations

The New Deal era of the 1930s resulted in a marked increase in federal regulation. At that time, there was no central repository for federal rules and regulations. Executive branch agencies would print regulations in different publications such as gazettes, bulletins, and notices. To simplify public access to administrative law, Congress passed the Federal Register Act, 49 Stat. 500 (1935) (44 U.S.C. Chapter 15), requiring that the National Archives publish all rules and regulations in the Federal Register. The first Federal Register was issued on March 14, 1936

Materials published in the Federal Register include Presidential documents (proclamations, executive orders, and other executive documents); notices of proposed rules, hearings, and meetings; proposed rules and regulations; and rules and regulations adopted by executive agencies. The Federal Register is published every federal work day.

Since 1938 adopted rules and regulations are also published in the Code of Federal Regulations (44 U.S.C. § 1510). Regulations are arranged by subject and agency, and organized into 50 different titles. Many, though not all of these titles, correspond to similar U.S. Code subjects. Within each title, regulations are organized by agency instead of subject.

CFR Volumes are now updated once each calendar year and is issued on a quarterly basis:

Titles 1-16           January

Titles 17-27         April

Titles 28-41         July

Titles 42-50         October  

 AGENCY DECISIONS AND ORDERS

Pursuant to statute some agency final orders and rules are subject to review in federal courts. Be certain to update your research by reviewing applicable court decisions. The resources listed provide varied coverage of decisions of select federal agencies. Consult specific agency websites for recent agency decisions and orders.

  • WestlawNext: Federal Administrative Decisions and Guidance 
  • Lexis Advance:  Search Administrative Materials/ U.S. Federal. 
  • Bloomberg Law: Search Legislative & Regulatory> U.S. Government Departments & Agencies; filter Administrative Orders & Decisions
  • HeinOnline : U.S. Federal Agency Documents, Decisions, and Appeals Collection
  • Pike & Fischer Administrative Law: KF 5401. A52. (First floor, Range 115).
  • LLMC Digital: Collection includes historical U.S. administrative decisions.

Executive Orders & Other Presidential Documents 

Presidential documents include executive orders and proclamations. These may be found in the Federal Register and in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The most comprehensive source for presidential documents is the Compilation of Presidential Documents (formerly the “Weekly” Compilation and since 2009 the “Daily” Compilations).  This contains executive orders and proclamations as well as nominations, announcements, transcripts of speeches, and press conferences.  Another useful resource containing a variety of presidential documents is the Public Papers of the Presidents.

Compilation of Presidential Documents

Public Papers of the Presidents

Updating

Note that the official version of the CFR is the print version (or equivalent PDF) published by the U.S. Government Printing Office. To cite regulations not yet appearing in the print CFR, cite to the Federal Register as described in Blue Book Rule 14.2.

Continuously updated versions of the CFR

  • e-CFR (GPO)
  • Lexis
    • Shepards is also available for regulations 
  • Westlaw
    • Keycite is also available for regulations

    Current Awareness/Tracking Regulations

    Journals & Blogs

    Other Useful Websites

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    Last edited September 30, 2014