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Federal Agencies and Executive Branch

Regulatory History

Regulatory history refers to the process that a piece of proposed rulemaking goes through before it becomes a regulation and consists of the documents created during that process. This typically includes Federal Register notices, proposed rules, and rules representing the complete rulemaking process associated with specific Public Laws or Executive Orders.

Regulatory history research is often conducted to investigate why an agency promulgated a particular regulation or to assist scholars, lawyers, and judges in interpreting a regulation.

ProQuest Regulatory Insight (available on campus or remotely with ASURITE)
This ProQuest database provides access to administrative law histories organized by public law number and allows you to locate all regulatory actions associated with a specific CFR part or U.S. Code section.  It also has Federal Register documents available for 1977-present and the Code of Federal Regulations for 1991-current.

When no already compiled regulatory history is available for the regulation you are researching, you will need to gather the Federal Register and other rulemaking documents pertaining to that regulation yourself. Below are the steps in the federal regulatory history research process.

The Library of Congress has also developed a detailed guide on conducting regulatory history, titled How to Trace Federal Regulations. The guide addresses the basics of how to "trace" a federal regulation, in order to not only derive its statutory authority, but also to learn more about its history and origins.

Step One: Locate the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section you are researching
Many researchers begin their regulatory history research with a CFR citation. You can access the CFR in a variety of ways - please consult the Regulations - Code of Federal Regulations box for information on free and subscription resources for the CFR.

Step Two: Access the CFR Statutory Note 
Administrative agencies must have been specifically granted authority by Congress in order to promulgate a rule or regulation. The CFR provides information on the statutory authority for the promulgation of a specific rule within the "statutory note" portion of a CFR section. The authority note typically can be found at the beginning of a larger unit of the CFR such as the beginning of a Part or Subpart. The authority note lists the specific sections of legislation that authorized the federal agency to promulgate the rule or regulation that follows.

Step Three: Access the CFR Source Note
The "source note" portion of a CFR section provides information on when a rule or regulation was published in the Federal Register. This information is useful to a researcher because it allows the researcher to learn more about the rule's history and origins through accessing its prior Federal Register publications. Typically a rule is published twice in the Federal Register - once as a proposed rule to allow the public with notice and an opportunity to comment, and again as the final version of the rule. There may be additional publications for a given rule as well, such as when a proposed rule is revised.

The source note can typically be found at the beginning of a larger unit of the CFR, such as a Part or Subpart, or may appear in brackets after a particular provision. The note will provide one or more citations to the Federal Register. You can access the Federal Register in a variety of ways - please consult the Regulations - Federal Register box for information on free and subscription resources for the Federal Register.

Step 4: Access the Final Rule Notice in the Federal Register
The Federal Register citations listed in the CFR source note will lead you to the regulation's "final rule" publication, which for many researchers is the end of goal of their research. While the text of the rule itself will not provide information on the rule's purpose and context, by navigating back to the "preamble" of the final rule you can find a summary of the rule, information on how the CFR will be amended to reflect the new rule, and often a description of the problem the rule was designed to address, an explanation of how the rule will address that problem, a summary of public comments on the proposed rule, and descriptions of studies or reports that agency may have conducted/written before putting the rule in place.

If you are interested in accessing the proposed rule or other Federal Register publications on a specific regulation, look at the "Background" section of the final rule notice to find a Federal Register citation to the proposed rule.

Step 5: Next Steps
Depending on your research, it may be useful for you to contact the office or agency that promulgated the rule for more information. In the final rule notice there is often contact information for an individual within the office or agency provided under the "for further information contact" section. This person can be an excellent source of information. In addition, the final rule notice may also include a Regulation Identifier Number, and agency or docket number, or a document number, under which additional documents related to the rule may be accessible through the promulgating agency.  You can submit a request to the agency using the identification number provided to seek access to those additional documents.