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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

Sources And Strategies Print Page

Sources of Administrative Materials

Free and commercial sources online for the CFR and FR




Government Printing Office Online (FDSYS)


1996 to present with browsing by date and title/section; includes indexes and LSA

1994 to present with browse by date or citation, updated daily

Hein Online

1938 to present with browsing by year/title/part/section; includes indexes and LSA

1936 to present, updated daily


Current and archived Codes for 1981 - 2011

From 1 FR 1 (March 14, 1936) to present


Current and archived Codes for 1984 – 2011, additionally searchable by area of practice

From 1 FR 1 (March 14, 1936) to present

Cornell Legal Information Institute

Annual Code

Links from current Code to GPO where changes made to individual titles

Findlaw (Powered by Westlaw)

1996 to present with search by section or keyword

1995 to 2006 searchable by keyword


1994 to present with browse by agency or topic; includes subscription option for current awareness updates on sections or subjects

There is one related site that assists researchers with the rulemaking process, and that is  It allows for search of rules, comments, adjudications or supporting documents via keyword search.  There are tutorials on the site to help a new researcher get started.  maintains a mechanism to track pending regulations and the ability to offer comment.

Agency decisions

Some of the federal agencies have the power to adjudicate disputes under their rules and procedures.  This happens when the agency assigns a case for a hearing under an administrative law judge (ALJ).  Hearings are conducted under rules of procedure established by the agency and usually published in the CFR.  The ALJ will render a decision which is typically adopted by the agency.  ALJ decisions can be appealed to the federal courts or to another panel within the agency depending on how the agency has been set up by Congress.  Some final decisions by an agency may not be appealed to the federal courts. For example, some administrative decisions by the Secretary of Labor are final by operation of statute.  The courts do not have authority to hear appeals on the results of an administrative in these circumstances unless there are constitutional violations in how the hearing was conducted.  The typical remedy is to order a new hearing rather than determine the outcome of the issue.

Sources for agency decisions

Agencies typically publish their decisions in official reports.  There may be several volumes worth of advance sheets or slip opinions before a permanent bound volume appears.  There is no paper equivalent of agency decisions that are part of West’s National Reporter System.  The various editions of West’s Federal Digest will have references to federal court decisions involving administrative law. Subjects referring to specific topic and key numbers can be found using the Descriptive Word Index volumes located at the end of the set.  There are multiple sources for agency decisions.

Free and commercial sources online

The most obvious source for an agency decision, especially one issued in the last ten years or so is the agency’s own web site.  The Government Printing Office works cooperatively with Louisiana State University to provide a web page with links to government agencies on the web.  The University of Virginia Library maintains pages that list Administrative Decisions and Other Actions by agency or by subject.  The White House links to each cabinet level office on its web site.  Findlaw maintains a comprehensive set of links to executive and independent agencies.  Lexis and Westlaw have archives of decisions by agencies on their services organized by department and subject. has search capabilities for agency adjudications.    

Print collections from commercial publishers

Pike and Fischer’s Administrative Law (BNA) compiles agency and court decisions related to regulations. The set includes opinions, a digest, and a bulletin. The contents are updated every two weeks.  Tax services from Commerce Clearing House (CCH) and the RIA (now part of Thompson Reuters) will publish administrative decisions from the Internal Revenue as part of their tax services.  Generally, commercial publishers who offer comprehensive legal reference sets or desk books on an area of law will reproduce relevant agency decisions as part of the content.  Print titles appearing online will normally include administrative decisions with parallel citation, as available, to the official publication. 

Official publications from the agencies

Typically these will be published similarly to court reports in that individual decisions will be issued in slip form.  This is the mostly likely form a decision will be available through an agency’s web page.  These may be collected in the form of advance sheets which would replace them, or simply replaced by a bound volume.  

Various federal entities issue single documents which stand alone as an agency publication. These reports are sometimes found in libraries depending on the nature and importance of the document. Even libraries who act as a Government Depository might not receive these documents if they do not select them as an item type. Lexis and Westlaw do not usually add these types of documents to their databases. The best place to find this material is by searching the agency’s own web site.  The Government Printing Office may in addition make selected agency reports available through its sites. 



Issues related to historical research

One of the problems in researching federal regulations at a past point in time is that a current regulation may be in a different part or section of the Code than that appearing in an earlier compilation.  This may be due to a regulation that is added, thus causing the previous regulation to be renumbered, or when responsibilities shift from one agency to another, potentially moving the regulation to another volume.  There is no derivation table provided by in the official government publication of the CFR that trace regulations back to prior editions.  Commercial online versions of the CFR do not provide that functionality either.

If the task is to find the text of a regulation at a specific date, then the process consists of finding the most recent edition of the CFR to that date and updating it by using the List of Sections Affected to the desired date.  If the task is to trace the amendment history of a regulation, compare the text and citation to the previous edition, and use a combination of the references to the modifying pages in the Federal Register that appear after each section and references contained in prior versions of the List of Sections Affected to trace a regulation’s history.

Strategies for locating specific regulations

If one has a citation to a regulation, then the obvious strategy is to simply go to that portion of the current Code for the text.  If the information sought is subject driven, the index to the printed Code or keyword search via any of the available online sites is an option.  Agencies sometimes place their regulations on their web site, and these may be located using the search feature on the agency web site or through advanced search in a search engine where search is limited to that site.

The United States Government Manual is useful to identify contact and web information for government agencies.  The Manual identifies all of the parts of the United States government, and provides descriptions of the agency, physical addresses, web addresses, and other information about them.  It is issued every year and is a standard reference item within the reference collection of most libraries. There is a PDF version available on the FDsys site at  The current edition is 2011 (October). There are online copies back to the 1995-1996 edition. 

The manual is useful, as the government regularly reorganizes itself. The details are found in reorganization plans submitted by the executive to congress and passed (or not) as the case may be. The manual (and older versions of it) gives a portrait of the federal government as it adds, deletes, and consolidates operations within a given year.  Appendix B of the manual identifies the agencies that have been terminated, transferred, or changed in name since March 4, 1933.

Strategies for locating specific agency decisions

The official reports of each agency may have an official digest that accompanies the volumes.  These can be used to find decisions where these digests are available.  Both Commerce Clearing House (CCH) and Bloomberg BNA maintain print services that cover various regulatory schemes.  These are a staple of academic or public law library collections.  These timely reprint agency decisions and thoroughly index them.  CCH makes many of these print publications through its commercial subscription based Intelliconnect online offering.  Bloomberg BNA has a similar commercial offering.  

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