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Administrative Law Research

Administrative and Regulatory Law Research Guide



This guide describes the organization of federal administrative law materials - and how to find them.

Intro to Federal Regulation

Administrative Agencies

Administrative agencies are government bodies "authorized to implement legislative directives by developing more precise and technical rules than possible in a legislative setting.  Many administrative agencies also have law enforcement responsibilities."  Administrative Agency, Wex.  These agencies draw authority from both Congress and the Executive. Agencies are typically created by Congress through the enactment of "enabling" statutes. Each agency is as unique in structure as its enabling statute. An agency may:

  • Promulgate regulations designed to implement law or policy
  • Issue orders to describe the final disposition of agency action
  • Issue licenses, permits, or other permissions
  • Issue advisory opinions with binding, non-precedential advice
  • Issue decisions arising from a quasi-adjudicative process


Running Time: 3 minutes, 48 seconds.

Administrative law research has three distinct but related content areas:

  1. Substantive administrative law and the underlying powers and procedures of administrative agencies
  2. Regulatory activities and actions of administrative agencies, including agency regulations, decisions and reports
  3. Issuances of the President, namely Executive Orders


For more introductory material on federal regulation please visit:


For a more in-depth discussion on administrative law, explore the following:

Agency Websites

Agency websites are a good place to begin your administrative law research. When navigating an agency website, look for headings such as:

  • Rules & Regulations
  • Legal / Laws Library
  • Enforcement
  • Interpretations

To find an agency, Google the agency's name or search:

To find defunct agency website materials, including helpful reports, use the: 

Administrative Procedure Act

Intro to the APA

The Administrative Procedure Act, Pub. L. 79-404 (1946) requires that agencies follow certain steps when putting rules into effect.  Under the APA, agencies must:

  • Publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register
  • Take comments from “interested persons” on the proposed rule
  • Publish a final rule in the Federal Register after considering those comments
  • Make the rule effective not less than 30 days after it is published.   

Around the time when the APA was passed, the Attorney General released a manual:

To learn more about the Act visit:

Federal Regulations

Rulemaking Process

This chart depicts the process of rulemaking step-by-step:

The Reg Map

Click to Enlarge

Federal Register

Final Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of federal agencies are first published in the Federal Register, a daily government publication.  Each modern issue of the modern Federal Register also contains these sections: CFR Parts Affected, Presidential Documents, and Corrections.  The first edition of the Federal Register was published March 14, 1936, and publication continues to this day.

The federal register is accessible through a number of sources including:

An Index to the Federal Register is available from the National Archive:

Citations to the Federal Register will contain "Fed. Reg."

Sample Citation:  Investment Adviser Performance Compensation, 77 Fed. Reg. 10,358 (Feb. 22, 2012) (to be codified at 17 C.F.R. pt. 275).

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

General and permanent rules and regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  The CFR is organized into 50 topical titles (typically named for the issuing agency). Chapters are further subdivided into parts and subparts. Parts are organized in sections.  The first edition of the CFR was published in 1939 containing regulations in force on June 1, 1938.  An Index to the Code of Federal Regulations is available from the National Archive.

A Source Note at the beginning of each CFR part provides the Federal Register citation and date where the part was published. If a particular section was added or amended later, a separate source note will follow that section.  The CFR is updated by amendments and new rules and regulations in the Federal Register. 

The full CFR is printed once a year, with updates occurring one-quarter of the set at a time.

  • Titles 1-16:  January 1
  • Titles 17-27: April 1
  • Titles 28-41: July 1
  • Titles 42-50: October 1

The CFR is accessible through a number of sources including:

An Index to the Code of Federal Regulations is available from the National Archive:

Citations to the Code of Federal Regulations will contain "C.F.R."  Citations to the CFR are most typically provided at either the part or section level.    

Sample Citation: 17 C.F.R. § 275.250 (2011).  

Updating Your Research

The CFR is published once a year; thus, any language in the latest published CFR must be checked for currency.  To establish the current validity of an existing regulation, find and read case law (in your jurisdiction) that cites your regulation.  Look out for court constitutionality rulings and other holdings affecting the rule's "good law" status.  Often the fastest and easiest way to update regulations is to use a citator (like Shepard's or Key Cite).  However, you can also update your research using the following free online sources:

Updating with offers a useful tool for checking updates, or proposed changes, to current CFR sections.  Under the Search Tab, select "Advanced Document Search."  Scroll down until you see the field "Affecting CFR Part," and enter the relevant section.

Federal Register advanced search page which offers option to search "affecting CFR part"

Updating with List of Sections Affected

  1. Find the text of the regulation in the CFR; note the revision date on the cover of the volume.
  2. Check the most recent LSA.  Compare the date on your CFR volume to the inclusive dates listed on the title page of the LSA. If there is a time gap between the date on your CFR volume and the coverage of the latest LSA, check the annual cumulation(s) of the LSA for your title.
  3. Check the list of "CFR Parts Affected during [month]" in the Federal Register issue for the last day of each full month not covered by step 2.
  4. Check the cumulative list of "CFR Parts Affected" in the last issue of the Federal Register for the current month.
  5. Using the citations found in steps 2-4, if any, check the Federal Register issues cited to see the text of the changes.

Regulatory History

Regulatory History

When searching for regulatory history information check out the Library of Congress' guide to help you get started:

The Federal Register contains most of the important summary, explanatory and documentary information on a rule.  For regulatory docket materials and public comments visit:

To view compiled rulemaking materials associated with a specific Public Law or Executive Order, visit:

Agency Decisions

Agency Decisions

Administrative agencies act in a judicial-like capacity when issuing decisions that interpret and enforce regulations.  These decisions are rarely gathered in one place, and some agencies do not publish decisions in any format. Administrative agency websites are a great place to start. The University of Virginia Law Library publishes a guide which provides links to agency opinions and publications:

Agency decisions & guidance can be accessed through the following sources:

Decisions & Opinions in Print

Some agencies publish official reports of their decisions in print reporters or binders called loose-leaf services. For older administrative decisions, print publications may be the only source. The Bluebook lists:

  • Official administrative publications in T1.2. 
  • Major loose-leaf services in T15.

For print materials at Harvard, search:

Freedom of Information Act

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), you may request documents from administrative agencies.

Executive Materials

Executive Orders & Other Docs

Executive materials are found in Title 3 of the CFR.  Presidential Documents are found in the back of each day’s Federal Register.  In addition, the White House website offers a great amount of information and access to Executive documents.  

Executive Orders

Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents

Public Papers of the Presidents

More Materials

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources such as books, current awareness/news sources, scholarly articles, or advocacy communications are extremely helpful in getting started.  

Westlaw & Lexis

Law Reviews & Journals

Legal Blawgs

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