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Administrative Law Research Guide   Tags: administrative law, agencies, cfr, code of federal regulations, federal register, regulations  

Last Updated: Feb 20, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Documenting Regulations Print Page

The Code of Federal Regulations

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codified general and permanent rules of the executive department and independent federal agencies of the United States. The Code began publication in 1938 with supplements appearing at various times until 1949 when a new edition was published.  Supplements continued to be published until 1967 when each title of the Code received updates on an annual basis. 

Organization, indexing, and content of the Code

The Code is broken into 50 broad titles that correspond to the rules of one or more agencies.  These titles are divided into chapters, which typically bear the names of the issuing agency, then parts, sub-parts, and sections.  The rules of an individual agency will appear in a single CFR title rather than being scattered throughout the Code.  There is a table called Alphabetical List of Agencies Appearing in the CFR at the end of each volume that cross-references an agency’s placement in the Code.  Citation to the CFR is generally to title, section, and year. Thus, 7 CFR 1.1 (2011) refers to title 7, part 1, section 1 in the volume published in 2011 compilation of the CFR. 

Though both the United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations contain 50 titles[1], only a few titles in the CFR correspond numerically to titles in the U.S. Code by subject. For example, title 7 in both sets covers the subject of agriculture; title 26 in both sets is based on the subject of revenue. Other titles do not necessarily correspond to their numerical counterpart in the U.S. Code.

Individual sections of the CFR will include citation to authority and amendment history information where relevant.  Information, immediately following the text of a section in the CFR identifies the section of the United States Code that authorized the rule and citations to the pages in the Federal Register where the changes to the section were finalized.

Publication frequency

The Code is updated on an annual basis with one- fourth of the Code having a revision date on the beginning of a different quarter.  The update schedule is:

Title 1 through Title 16 ... as of January 1

Title 17 through Title 27 ... as of April 1

Title 28 through Title 41 ... as of July 1

Title 42 through Title 50 ... as of October 1

The annual revisions to the CFR incorporate the changes published in the Federal Register since the previous revision of the specific Code volume. The Federal Register is discussed in more detail below.  The cover date of a CFR volume indicates the current “as of” date and is not a date of publication.  CFR volumes typically appear in print and online well after the cover date.

The only title that isn’t revised is Title 3, which corresponds to the President. Title 3 contains executive orders, proclamations, and other presidential material. Every year a new volume is issued that supplements the previous years’ issue. Libraries keep all issues of Title 3 as part of their CFR collection even though they may not retain older yearly compilations.  There are separate publications that include these materials and more called the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents.  These are available online from the Government Printing Office with coverage starting from the beginning of the Clinton administration in 1993. 

Executive Orders published between April 13, 1945, and January 20, 1989 can be found in the publication Codification of Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders. This document is out of print, but is available online in an HTML version from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  It should also be available in most Federal Depository Libraries.

The government provides the CFR Index and Finding Aids as a one-volume index to the entire CFR. It is replaced annually.  The Index has limited utility, as it is very general in scope. There was at one time a commercial publication The CIS Index to the Code of Federal Regulations is a four- volume set that covers both the CFR and the Federal Register. Researchers considered it a better index to the Code.  It ceased publication in 2001 but is potentially useful for historical research (1977-2001)

The government edition of the CFR Index does contain a Parallel Table of Authority and Rules. This table cross-references the statutory authority to the rules put in place under that authority. This table is organized in several parts, utilizing several parallel citation forms:

·         U.S. Code Section to CFR Citation (Titles 1 – 50)

·         Statutes At Large Citation to CFR Citation (7 Stat. 491 to present)

·         Public Law Number to CFR Citation (P.L. 80-806 to present)

·         Presidential Notices (November 12, 1993 to present)

·         Presidential Proclamations (April 28, 1916 to present)

·         Executive Orders (1209 to present)

·         Presidential Directives (May 17, 1972 to present)

·         Presidential Memorandums (November 10, 1961)

·         Presidential Notices (August 3, 2000 to present)

·         Reorganization Plans (1940 Plan Number 4 to present)

Updating the Code

The regulations published in the CFR are updated through rule changes published in the Federal Register.  These changes can take effect well before a CFR volume is revised.  There are several ways to locate an up-to-date version of regulations.  The Government Printing Office maintains an e-CFR at that editorially combine changes to the Code made through the Federal Register.  As an electronic product, the presentation is in HTML text without any corresponding PDF option. Lexis and Westlaw maintain similar combined databases.  Each issue of the Federal Register contains its own table list of sections affected by the rule changes it contains.

List of Sections Affected (LSA)

The List of Sections Affected (LSA) appears monthly and gives a cumulative list of revisions made to the CFR by materials from the Federal Register. The monthly publication is replaced by quarterly revisions. The LSA contains references to the date of the CFR volume, the title, part, and section.  Entries in the list will correspond to page citations in the volume of the Federal Register where the changes were made.

There is an online version of the LSA at the Government Printing Office web site. The main database is a static copy of the text as it appears in the paper version. There other databases provided by the government daily and monthly as part of the online version of the LSA.

The GPO describes the LSA:

Each LSA issue is cumulative and contains the CFR part and section numbers, a description of its status (e.g., amended, confirmed, revised), and the Federal Register page number where the change(s) may be found. The LSA is issued monthly; however, on GPO Access, the LSA also contains three supplemental services: the List of CFR Parts Affected Today, Current List of CFR Parts Affected, and Last Month’s List of CFR Parts Affected.

·         List of CFR Parts Affected Today: Lists the CFR parts affected by change(s) appearing in most current issue Federal Register. The Federal Register is published Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

·         Current List of CFR Parts Affected: Lists the CFR parts affected by change(s) since the last monthly issue of the LSA.

·         Last Month's List of CFR Parts Affected: Lists only the CFR parts affected by change(s) during the last month.

GPO Access contains the LSA from 1997 forward. Documents are available as ASCII text and Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) files

[1] Congress recently added Title 51 (National and Commercial Space Programs) to the U.S. Code.  


The Federal Register

Publication frequency

The Federal Register is an official daily publication of the United States Government (excluding weekends and federal holidays) containing the rules, proposed rules, notices of activity by federal agencies and organizations, and executive documents such as Presidential Proclamations, Executive Orders, and other miscellaneous documents. Notices contain non-rulemaking documents that are applicable to the general public and named parties. These documents include notices of public meetings, hearings, investigations, grants and funding, environmental impact statements, information collections, and more. 

The combined yearly publication of the Federal Register can be as many as 75,000 or more pages.  A new volume begins every calendar year and each issue given a number.  The Register is paginated consecutively over each issue and is cited as [Vol] FR [Page] (Date).  Thus, citation to a proposed rule of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau from the October 14, 2011 issue would cited as 76 FR 63852 (2011).

Organization, indexing, and content of the Federal Register

The individual Register issues are arranged by agency as organized in CFR title and section order.  A table within each Register issue also contains a handy list of sections affected for that issue cross-referencing to FR page numbers. Thus, revisions to the CFR are easy to track within individual issues of the Register. An agency that has not contributed content to an issue will not be listed in that issue.  Each entry in the Register usually has contact information for an individual within the agency who can provide more information about the specific item. This usually consists of name, address, phone number, and email address.

The Register is available in paper at most libraries for at least the past one or two years. Older issues are usually available on microform. There is an online version (both text and PDF) at GPO’s FDsys web site starting with Volume 60 (1995). The text is searchable by keyword and can be limited to year and document type. Both Lexis and Westlaw have versions of the Register back to 1936. A complete set of the Federal Register is available in PDF format from Hein Online.

Finding the CFR and FR in print and online

From a research strategy standpoint, the best opportunity to research the Code of Federal Regulations is through the free databases on and GPO Access.  The Government Printing Office maintains both web sites and is migrating content from GPO Access to FDSys.  All Government Printing Office content will ultimately appear on FDsys exclusively.  That process is not complete at this time of writing.  As such, some regulatory content (such as the LSA) still appears on GPO Access.  Lexis and Westlaw offer similar functionality to search for both historical and current text of regulations.  Another commercial database that contains a complete copy of the CFR and the Federal Register is Hein Online.  This database may be available to the general public at an academic or public law library that hold a subscription to Hein.  The CFR is available in print in most law libraries. Libraries may not keep an archive past one or two years in paper. Microform or some kind of online access is an alternative in this situation.  The following table lists some of the major options for finding online copies of the CFR and Federal Register.

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