If you understand the piece of legal information you are searching for, its role and how it is published, then you will have no problems locating it, especially if you follow the following mechanical steps.

Finding an administrative regulation when you know its citation

If your task is to find a specific regulation when you know its citation, then you need to:
  1. identify the proper repository (F.R. stands for the Federal Register, C.F.R. stands for the Code of Federal Regulations)
  2. choose the format you are most comfortable with (print or online);
  3. for print go to the correct volume of the F.R. or C.F.R., and then to the correct page or section;
  4. for online research type your citation in the appropriate research box, and
  5. make sure to update your results by using the Internet repositories of federal administrative law as explained in the next section.

For example, if your research task is to locate Exec. Order No. 13563, 76 FR 3821, then you go to the FR library on all mega databases mentioned in the previous section and type "76 FR 3821" in their research box and obtain this 2011 Executive Order on improving medicare regulation and regulatory review. If you want to use print materials you need to locate the FR set 76 and then within that multi-volume set, the volume which contains page 3821.

The mechanical steps listed above work identically if, for instance, you want to locate 8 CFR § 208.16, Withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act and withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture.

However, sometimes, be prepared to be mesmerized, because the federal government has done an exquisite job with the digital repositories of administrative law. Sometimes all you need to do is use the popular search engine Google, and you can easily find what you need. However, even in those situations you need to make sure that your research is up-to-date!!!

Finding the text of an administrative regulation as issued by the agency

This task requires you to find the static version of the rule, not its updated, version. In this instance you need to use the Federal Register, because the FR is the official chronological publication of administrative rules which publishes their text in totum. The FR contains a snapshot which does not change in time, and its text will always remain the same, that of the rule when it was published. Luckily this task can be done online, within the dates mentioned in the previous section, by using free-of-charge governmental sources, or if you have access to a library which subscribes to HeinOnline, The Federal Register Library, irrespective of the date of the rule you need to research.

Finding all administrative regulations enabled by a specific statute

This task requires you to use a specific tool, which is called the CFR Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules. It is freely available online and in print, though the most recent edition is two years behind.

Another way to find all regulations enabled by a specific statute is to start with the statute itself in its codified version provided by Westlaw, and Lexis and find the relevant administrative law provisions mentioned at the end of the statutory text. By using the citators, KeyCite and Shepards you can find the same information.

Finding the text of all administrative regulations on a given topic

Because the C.F.R. is the only topical publication of administrative rules, it makes sense to start with this repository. The GPO print publication contains a 1-vol topical Index, which sometimes could constitute a good starting point for your research. More useful however is to use the West published Index which is a multi-volume set available both in print and online, because it does a substantially better job at indexing the vast material of administrative rules.

However, perhaps the best way to find all administrative rules on a given topic is to start with their enabling statute. Because you know that there can be no administrative rule without an enabling statute and because the U.S.Code contains references to all C.F.R. provisions it enables, starting with the enabling statute is the soundest way to start this type of research.

Here is a quick multi-parts practice exercise - finding all regulations on a specific topic.

Finding each step of how an administrative rule becomes final

Searching for proposed rules, notices, and public hearings where public comments where recorded is a daunting but doable process, especially if your research task does not require finding public comments. As you know, for almost 100 years, the federal rulemaking process has been recorded in the Federal Register, and you need to search this repository, whose digital availability was mentioned in the preceding section.

If your research goes further back and you need to use the FR microfiche or the print collection as imaged in PDFs - through HeinOnline, then you need to become familiar with the various sections of the F.R. collection which will affect your administrative research. Here they are briefly:
  • Each issue has a cover page which contains the crucial date information;
  • The table of contents (TOC) is called "Contents" and it is one of the most useful finding aids tools ever. It lists all issuing agencies and the type of rulemaking activity recorded in each FR issue: (a) notices, (b) proposed rules, or (c) rules;
  • The TOC of CFR parts affected in that issue follows the Contents, then
  • Each rulemaking aspect mentioned in the Contents is subsequently published, and finally
  • Each issue ends with a section titled "Reader Aids" which contains, inter alia, a more comprehensive list of CFR parts affected within that month up to the date of that FR issue.

Once you understand what to expect from each FR, then you can take advantage of the annual FR indexes which mention what type of specific rulemaking activity happened during that year. The FR Indexes are available on HeinOnline from 1936 through 2012, while the daily FR library is updated daily.

If your historical research task is more complex, and if it requires finding copies of historical public comments received by US agencies, then here are some additional suggestions for research:

  • Try searching the Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org
  • Many comments and the agency’s responses to the comments are reproduced with the final adoption of a rule as printed in the Federal Register. Though the comments are not complete, and only a few are selected as representative of a theme, you might try searching for them in the Federal Register via HeinOnline.
  • Try searching at http://regulations.gov . You can search by agency and limit by date or keyword, however, coverage starts post-2000.
  • Try searching http://www.governmentattic.org. This may require a FOIA request. Check the agencies’ FOIA and records retention policies
  • Check with the Sunlight Foundation, and their new search tool called Docket Wrench http://docketwrench.sunlightfoundation.com/

Finding information on what to expect from specific administrative agencies within the next six months

Sometimes you may want to foresee administrative rulemaking and the only way to do that is by going to Reginfo.gov Since 2007, The Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan, which is the only tool to give researchers a glimpse into a non-binding agenda of regulatory and deregulatory actions under development throughout the Federal government, exists only online. Thus, if you want to know what to expect from the USDA on the introduction of genetically Engineered organisms and products in the first 6 months of 2013 , then you go to the 2013 agenda, and perform an index search on that topic.