Finding Federal Regulations and Administrative Decisions

Over 50 federal agencies perform regulatory functions. Most aspects of everyday life are regulated by federal agencies, including the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the air we breathe. The body of law created by federal agencies is called administrative law. Administrative law covers the rules, regulations, and decisions of federal, state, and municipal agencies. This article discusses how to find proposed and final federal regulations, as well as how to locate the administrative orders or decisions of various federal agencies.

Federal Register


The Federal Register is the official daily publication for all proposed rules, final rules, and notices of federal agencies. The Federal Register also includes executive orders and other presidential documents. By law, federal agencies must publish their proposed regulations in the Federal Register. The agency is required to cite the statutory basis for its rulemaking authority, give a description of the goals of the proposed rules, and discuss the regulatory history of the topic that is the subject of the proposed rule. The agency allows a time period for interested parties to comment on the proposed rules. Based on public input, the agency may revise the proposed rule. After the comment period is over, the agency issues a final rule, which is again published in the Federal Register. The Federal Register is available in print in public libraries and online through various government and private web sites.

Code of Federal Regulations


The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the official publication of all regulations currently in force for all federal agencies. The CFR contains 50 titles that represent the areas that are subject to federal regulations. For example, Title 26 of the CFR covers the regulations of the Internal Revenue Service. Each CFR title is further broken down into chapters, parts, sections, and subsections. The CFR is available in print in public libraries and online through various government and private web sites. The CFR is reprinted in its entirety each year. However, certain regulations may have been amended since the last edition was published. Therefore, it is important to update the information found in the CFR by checking one of the available online sources.

Federal Administrative Agency Decisions


Federal agencies make administrative decisions in three broad types of cases: regulatory cases, entitlement cases, and enforcement cases. An agency's decision can be informal or can be the result of a formal administrative hearing. Agency decisions are printed in official administrative publications and in private publications called loose-leaf services. Agency decisions are also available online at various public and private web sites.

Regulatory cases deal with federal regulation of rates and services, such as the licensing of hydroelectric projects. If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a company's application for a license, the company could request an administrative hearing to review the Commission's decision.

Entitlement cases cover federal benefits to individuals, such as Social Security claims. If the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied an application for disability benefits, the claimant could request an administrative hearing to review the SSA's decision.

Enforcement cases deal with an agency's enforcement of federal law or regulations. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority to prohibit the sale of foods that are found to be adulterated or tainted or the sale of unapproved therapeutic drugs.

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