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American Government and Politics: Researching the history of a regulation

Researching the History of a Regulation

Agencies propose new regulations, open them for comment, and publish "Final Rules" in the Federal Register (FR).

Regulations (Final Rules) are compiled and codified (systematically organized) under "Titles" in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).


1. Locate the regulation in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

via LexisNexis Academic

--Select "Search By Content Type" -->Legal -->Federal Statutes and Regulations

via Hein Online (1938 - latest)
--Scroll down to find the Federal Register Library.
--Select the Advanced Search link.
--Select the Code of Federal Regulations

2. Trace the footnote citations to the Federal Register/Final Rule.

3.  In the Federal Register, look for the Supplementary Information published under the final rule.
This is where you will find a history of the legislation behind the regulation, and a summary of the comments that were made during the open comment period, along with the agency's response to those comments.

Federal Register via Hein Online 1936-2015)
--Scroll down to find the Federal Register Library.
--Select the Advanced Search link.
--Select the Federal Register

4. If desired, use the footnote citation in the Federal Register to find the Statute that authorized the agency to propose/implement rules to meet the general requirements of the law.

Statutes at Large via Hein Online. 
-- Scroll down the left-hand menu to find "United States Statutes-at-Large."

See also:

These publicly available online resources below may also be helpful for researching the history or background of more recent regulations (within the last decade or so): 

Code of Federal Regulations
From the Government Printing Office.

Federal Register:

PDFs of the official Federal Register, via FDsys.

Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government:

 "This HTML version is presented in a unique web journal format known as “Federal Register 2.0,” or “FR2.” In the future, this site will be presented to the Administrative Committee of the Federal Register for their determination as to whether it should be granted official status under 1 CFR 5.10." [, User Information]

The eRulemaking Program Management Office, with the assistance of partner Federal agencies, manages The eRulemaking Program was created in 2002 as an E-Government project and is managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Provides access to proposed rules, the rulemaking dockets (including public comments), and final rules of participating agencies.*

*A Non Participating agency is a Federal agency that publishes Federal Register documents on but does not participate in the eRulemaking program; therefore, public comments and additional supporting documentation are not posted on In order to view these comments, users should contact the agency directly. In order to find the contact, reference the section in the Federal Register entitled "For further information contact."  [ FAQs]