Federal Regulations

Federal regulations are the formal rules devised by U.S. governmental agencies. Although they are not laws, regulations from the executive departments and federal agencies can have the force of law, since they often include penalties for violations.

  • The United States government publishes proposed regulations in the Federal Register (daily Monday through Friday).
  • Entries are in generally in order by date.
  • Each entry includes the text of a proposed regulation, an address to which written comments may be sent, a deadline for those comments, and (occasionally) supplementary information.
  • Once the deadline has passed, the agency will review all comments received and (usually) publish the final version of the regulation.
  • When the regulation is finalized, the final version is then published in the Federal Register with an effective date.
  • These individual regulations are then cumulated and codified into one of 50 subject titles in the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • The CFR is updated annually:
    • Titles 1-16, Revised as of January 1
    • Titles 17-27, Revised as of April 1
    • Titles 28-41, Revised as of July 1
    • Titles 42-50, Revised as of October 1
    • CFR publication dates are actually two to three months later than the revised dates
  • The annual U.S. Government Manual includes descriptions of all the executive departments and many independent agencies.


The Regulations.gov website is the central online rulemaking portal of the United States government.

  • Offered as a public service to increase participation in the Federal government's regulatory activities.
  • Regulations.gov enables you to search, view, and comment on proposed Federal regulations from approximately 160 federal executive departments and agencies through a single website.
  • The site allows visitors to search by keyword, department, or agency to find proposed regulations.
  • Each entry provides a quick link to a comment form so that visitors can type in their comments and submit them to the appropriate department or agency.
  • The consolidated site enables visitors to easily move from one regulation to the next.
  • By providing electronic access to open rulemaking actions, Regulations.gov gives citizens a greater opportunity to provide their views.
  • The Regulatory Timeline shows a general overview of the regulatory process.

How Do I Find Regulations By Subject?

Online, use the Westlaw database or the Code of Federal Regulations database from govinfo.gov to search by keyword subject. Then check the Federal Register database from govinfo.gov to find the most recent final and proposed regulations.

Has full text of the Code of Federal Regulations and the complete Federal Register, back to 1936. Searchable by citation or full text. Path to search: Federal Materials > Code of Federal Regulations (OR Federal Register). Advanced Search option is handy.
Code of Federal Regulations
May browse 1996 to the present or search by citation (CFR). For the advanced search (CFR), select Code of Federal Regulations and click "Add" to add CFR to the Selected Collections box. Use "Search in" options to search. See search tips from govinfo.gov.
Code of Federal Regulations (LII)
Easy browsing of the current CFR from Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School.
Federal Register (govinfo.gov)
May browse the Federal Register the day it is published. Coverage begins with 1936. May search by citation. For the advanced search (Federal Register), scroll "Refine by Collection" and check Federal Register and then customize the search. Has brief search tips. Going directly to the actual Federal Register home page is another option.
Federal Register Index
Online index is current. PDF version is current up to the previous month. Older indexes available back to 1994. From the Office of the Federal Register.
Unified Agenda (Regulations.gov)
  • The Unified Agenda is also known as the Semiannual Regulatory Agenda.
  • Publishes the agendas of regulatory and deregulatory activities (the rules and proposed rules) that federal agencies expect to issue in the next six months.
  • The Regulatory Plan, published as part of the "fall" edition of the Agenda, identifies regulatory priorities and has details about the significant regulatory actions that agencies expect to take in the coming year.
  • Some portions are published in the Federal Register (FR).
  • From 1983-2011, it was published every spring and fall, usually in April and October.
  • Publication is now irregular.
  • It is published by the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
  • To use, select agency to see "Current Agenda Agency Regulatory Entries for Active Actions."
  • May also use a simple search,
  • advanced search,
  • or a search of archives, going back to fall 1995.
Unified Agenda (govinfo.gov)
May browse. Has 1994 to 2010 only. No direct link, so scan this publications list for the Unified Agenda.
Unified Agenda (Federal Register)
You can view the portions of the Unified Agenda that are published in the FR. An easy way to do this is by an advanced search in govinfo.gov; search the Federal Register for unified agenda, then filter the results by organization and date. Examples:

How Do I Find Regulations By FR Citation?

To find the CFR title and section when you have a Federal Register citation:

  • Search the CFR in either the Westlaw or Code of Federal Regulations databases--by using the FR citation
  • Search the Federal Register for the FR citation; at the beginning of the FR entry, it should state where the final rule will be incorporated into the CFR.

Also, to find regulations related to a specific law (laws are in the United States Code), use the Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules of the CFR Index and Finding Aid.

CFR Index and Finding Aids (annual)
AE 2.106/3-2: (Documents/Reference)
The Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules has sections arranged by United States Code citation, Statutes-at-Large citation, Public Law Number, Executive Orders, Directives, Memorandums, and Reorganizations Plans. Refers you to the title and part where regulations can be found.
Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules
Online version. Browse this information page for links to the annual current table (PDF and Text versions). Also has links to older tables.

How Do I Update a Regulation?

If researching a regulation in the CFR, you will want to verify if any changes have been made to it. Since each CFR title is published annually, it could be be out of date.

LSA (List of CFR Sections Affected)
Lists proposed, new, and amended federal regulations that have been published in the Federal Register since the most recent annual revision of the CFR title.
  • Each monthly LSA issue is cumulative and contains the CFR part and section numbers, its status (amended, confirmed, revised), and the Federal Register page number where the change(s) may be found.
  • Annual cumulative editions published each December.
  • For proposed rules, and IRS final rules, only states that a certain part is affected.
Federal Register
The most recent monthly LSA may be over six weeks old, so not recent enough for you to completely update a regulation. To supplement the LSA:
  • Look at the most recent online issue of the Federal Register.
  • Click on the link to the Table of Contents.
  • Almost at the bottom of the TOC, will be the Reader Aids.
  • It has CFR Parts Affected During (Current Month).
  • For example, in mid-December, the most recent LSA may be the October edition. To update it, look at the Reader Aids in the most recent December issue of the Federal Register.

The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations has the advantage of being updated daily. However, it is an unofficial editorial compilation of CFR material and Federal Register amendments. It is not an official, legal publication.

What is a Preamble?

The preamble of a rule in the Federal Register has basic information and, sometimes, background information. This useful information is available in the Federal Register, but not the CFR.

  • A preamble is located at the beginning of a final or proposed rule.
  • Depth of information can vary.
  • Basic information will include: agency name, summary, effective date of a final rule, addresses, etc.
  • If included, background information is usually located in the supplementary information section of the preamble. It explains the basis and purpose of the rule (the agency's intent).
  • A preamble of a final rule may include much more, such as discussion or analysis of comments about a proposed rule received by the public.

For Further Reading

Federal Register 101 PDF document
Excellent overview from the Office of the Federal Register.
The Federal Register: What It Is and How to Use It.
AE 2.108:F 31/2 (Gov Docs - Reference)
Tutorial on how to use the Federal Register. Available online in PDF or HTML.
A Research Guide to the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations
Exceptional guide from the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, DC.
Big Sexy Holiday Fun With the 2014 Unified Agenda Of Federal Regulations (Forbes)
Charts the activity and irregular release dates of the Unified Agenda since 2011. Quotes the Federal Register: The Regulatory Plan and the Unified Agenda do not create a legal obligation on agencies to adhere to schedules in this publication or to confine their regulatory activities to those regulations that appear within it.