Repositories of Administrative Law

Federal Repositories of Administrative Rules

For almost a century, administrative law research has been possible because in 1935, Congress passed the Federal Register Act, c. 417, 49 Stat. 500 (1935) which required all federal agencies to timely publish their regulations. Since then, federal administrative rules and regulations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents, are published in The Federal Register (F.R.), and then some are codified and re-published in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.).

The Federal Register (F.R.) is the official daily publication of rules, proposed rules, and notices of federal agencies and organizations. It is often referred to as the Daily Journal of the United States Government. Additionally it publishes executive orders and other presidential documents. All daily issues published in a given year constitute a single volume. Each F.R. volume is paginated consecutively. Each year a new volume of the Federal Register is published. Starting with its 1994 volumes, all FR volumes are available electronically in their official format from two portals: FDsys, and the Office of the Federal Register . HeinOnline offers access to the PDF version of the FR volumes from 1935 to present, while Bloomberg Law has the most comprehensive electronic database of FR volumes (1937-date) among the three mega aggregators of legal information: Lexis (1980-date) and Westlaw (1981-date). Each federal agency has an electronic presence and will freely publish its most recent rules on its web site.

The Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) republishes the general and permanent rules already published by the F.R., and organizes them by 50 broad topics, such as “Housing and Urban Development” (title 24) or “Wildlife and Fisheries” (title 50). Those topics, as mentioned before, do not necessarily correspond to those used by the U.S. Code to organize federal statutes. Thus, you cannot use your knowledge about a title of the U.S. Code to substitute for searching for the appropriate title in the C.F.R. Remember: title 34 of the C.F.R. covers copyright issues, not title 17, although it is under title 17 of the U.S. Code that you will find copyright statutory provisions.

The 50 titles of the C.F.R. are completely revised each year. They are issued on a quarterly basis:

  • Titles 1-16 are published on January 1;
  • Titles 17-27 are published on April 1;
  • Titles 28 -41 are published on July 1; and
  • Titles 42-50 are published on October 1.

Starting with its 1996 volume, the Code of Federal Regulations is also available electronically in its official version from both FDsys, and Office of the Federal Register. An unofficial, daily updated version is available from, HeinOnline contains the most comprehensive digital CFR library (1938-date). Reversing the FR trend, Bloomberg Law only contains the current year of CFR regulations, while Lexis has the most comprehensive CFR library of the three mega aggregators (1981-date), followed by Westlaw (1984-date).

State Repositories of Administrative Rules

Usually, state administrative rules and regulations are also published chronologically, in a codified version, and topically, in a daily publication. A list of the title of those compilations is available in the Bluebook. Once you know their title, you can easily locate them in a library catalog, or online. For example, the name of the New York chronological compilation is the New York State Register (Register). It is a weekly publication, and starting with its 2003 volume is electronically available free-of charge. Those rules are also published in a codified compilation, the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules & Regulations of the State of New York. While there is no free
access to this official compilation of administrative rules, through Thomson West, users can access the West compilation, which is abbreviated, NYCRR. Additionally, parts of the official compilation are available through that department’s Web site. For example, the environmental rules and regulations are regulations are available through the Web site of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservations.

Federal Repositories of Administrative Hearings

To the extent federal agencies have the authority to solve disputes, their decisions need to be recorded. The decisions issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, are available both in commercial as well as in official publications, in print—Decisions and Reports—and electronically. For example, the Commission’s Opinions and orders issued from 1996 onward are available electronically free-of-charge from its official Web site.

Lexis, Bloomberg Law, and Westlaw also offer access to administrative decisional law. Lexis covers the officially published decisions of all state departments, and many
federal agencies. Both Lexis and Westlaw cover federal decisional law reprinted in commercial publications available through them, and their decisional coverage has only
improved since this book’s print publication. Bloomberg Law contains “an extensive and continuously growing collection of documents, news, rulings, filings, forms, manuals, reports and other publications issued by major US federal regulatory bodies including the Federal Reserve Board, US Treasury Department, SEC, CFTC, FDIC, OCC, OTS, NCUA, FFIEC, USPTO, FERC, EEOC, NLRB, NMB, MSPB, IRS, and others.”

Agency Websites

Within the last decade more and more legal information has become available online. The same is true when it comes to federal agencies, which tend to contain all primary sources — statutes, rules, and administrative decisions — and extensive background analysis of those primary sources which define their function.

For example, let’s take a tour of the US Environmental Protection Agency ( What types of documents are available on this site? Primary or secondary sources? What types of primary sources are available? Statutes? Cases? Administrative rules? What type of analysis?

The EPA website contains both primary and secondary materials. For instance, there are statutes, regulations, executive orders, administrative decisions, and position papers, as well as educational materials for children, and scientific studies. As primary materials, it contains links to statutes and regulations — the EPA does not carry the actual statute or regulation on its website – it reroutes to FDSys. However, it does provide its own statutory summaries (see, e.g. summary of the Atomic Energy Act or the summery of the Clean Air Act (42 USC 7401 et seq.). The EPA site also contains all EPA regulations,which are easily located by following the Regulations link. Similarly, for regulations the site functions as a portal, rerouting users to various official and unofficial FR and CFR sites, such as the e-CFR. Perhaps the most difficult to find are the EPA administrative orders and decisions. The site covers the EPA’s decisions since 1989 to date, but they are not easily accessible from the home page. The EPA decisions can be located through a Google search and then researched if you know the year of the decision and at least the name of one party.