Federal Statutes and Regulations

Federal statutes and regulations follow a similar publication pattern: they are published first in chronological order and are later codified by subject. The uses of various publications and web sites that describe the regulations promulgated by Federal agencies and the statutes passed by the U.S. Congress are examined here.

A typical statute may establish an obligation or a mandate on behalf of a Federal agency. In order to comply with that mandate, the agency will promulgate a regulation as to how the agency will enforce compliance with the statutory requirements. This is a simplified version of the relationship between statutes and regulations.

Finding Public Laws and Federal Statutes

To understand how to locate specific statutes by subject or different forms of citation it is necessary to recognize how a statute is created. The U.S. Congress meets in a two-year term which consist of two annual sessions, which is termed as a Congress. During each Congress, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives consider over 5000 bills and enact several hundred statutes in the form of acts and joint resolutions. The statutes can range from simple designations of commemorative days to complex legislation regarding environmental, economic and social issues, which will span hundreds of pages of text.

Each law passed is designated as either a public law or a private law, and is assigned a number indicating the chronological order in which it is passed. Public laws are designed to affect the general public while private laws are passed to meet the special needs of an individual or group. Only public laws become part of the statutory code, the U.S. Code. Both will appear in separate series in the session laws, the U.S. Statutes at Large.

HeinOnline's U.S. Statutes at Large Library provides searchable, online access to Public Laws, Private Laws, Presidential Proclamations, and Treaties published in the U.S. Statutes at Large from its inception in 1789 to 2011.

As bound volume sources of session laws, The Library maintains the U.S. Statutes at Large (K42 .A3), which are published by the Government Publishing Office and the West publication that features selective legislative history documents, which is entitled the United States Code and Congressional Administrative News (K35 .U5).

The Interior Library also provides access to session laws within the paperback advance sheets of two commercial publications: the United States Code and Congressional Administrative News (K35 .U5) and the U.S. Code Annotated (KF 62 .W45). Session laws in the form of slip laws constitute the official text of a statute; they are housed in the Library near the U.S. Statutes at Large.

The public and private law numbers run in sequence, starting anew at the beginning of each Congress. Since 1957, the public laws have been prefixed for easier identification by the number of the Congress. For example, the first Public Law of the 106th Congress is designated Public Law (or PL) 106-1. Prior to 1957, public and private laws had citations as chapters and as a Statute at Large.

A typical statute cite will read, for example, (both before and after the 1957 change in numbering public laws) as 99 Stat. 713, which meant that it could be located in volume 99 of the U.S. Statutes at Large at page 713.

Tables that correlate Public Law and U.S. Statutes at Large cites are published in the Table volumes of the U.S. Code Annotated and at the end of each volume that completes a legislative session of the United States Code and Congressional Administrative News (K35 .U5). These tables will also provide access to specific citations to the codifications embodied in the U.S. Code and the U.S. Code Annotated.

The U.S. Code, the U.S. Code Annotated, the United States Code and Congressional Administrative News, and the U.S. Statutes at Large contain subject indices and Popular Name Tables to facilitate the location of specific statutes. The U.S. Code Annotated has several features that appear with each statute which none of the other statutory search tools contain. These include:

  • annotations in the form of summaries of holdings of cases that have construed the statute
  • annotations in the form of notes on the history of and amendments to the statute
  • annotations to relevant practice sets, legal periodicals and treatises
  • cross-references to similar and related statutes

To summarize, the following chart illustrates what each tool contains relevant to the act with the popular name "Forest Resources and Conservation and Shortages Relief Act of 1990" and the different citations used as a reference point in each set.

Forest Resources and Conservation and Shortages Relief Act of 1990
Research Tool Cite Used Types of Indexing
U.S. Code 16 U.S.C. 620 A, B, E
U.S. Code Annotated 16 U.S.C.A. 620 A, B, C, D, E
U.S. Code and Congressional Administrative News 104 Stat 714 P.L. 101-382 487 et seq. A, B, E, F
U.S. Statutes at Large 16 U.S.C. 620 A, B



A: Subject index
B: Popular name index
C: Annotations to case law
D: Annotations to law review articles, legal encyclopedias, digest key numbers
E: Legislative history notes
F: Selective legislative history documents

Many sources can also be found on the Internet: 

  • United States Code
    1994 to 2022, through govinfo.gov (GPO)
  • United States Code
    provided by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, this version is generated from the most recent official version made available by the US House of Representatives. For more information about the currency of any particular section of the United States Code, and the differences between the printed and online versions, see the Office of Law Revision Counsel website.
  • Public and Private Laws
    104th Congress (1995) to the present, through govinfo.gov (GPO)
  • Public Laws
    82nd Congress (1951/1952) to the present, through Congress.gov

Finding Regulations

In its simplest form, the system of publishing Federal agency regulations is based on a daily publication entitled the Federal Register, which constitutes a counterpart to the session laws, and a codification of promulgated regulations entitled the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Each of these publications contain other components as detailed below.

The location of Federal agency regulations in these official publications involves the use of a variety of Federally and commercially produced indices publications as described below. The Internet provides opportunities to search specific annual sequences of both publications at the following web sites:

The Federal Register has been published daily, Monday through Friday since March 14, 1936, pursuant to the Federal Register Act, 49 Stat. 500, 44 U.S.C. 301 et seq. The Federal Register publishes the following types of documents:

  • Presidential documents - these include Proclamations and Executive Orders
  • Rules and regulations - these are published with a summary, effective dates, contact persons, and relevant supplementary information
  • Proposed rules - documents which notify the public of proposed regulations and solicits comments within a specific time frame
  • Notices - notices of hearings and investigations, committee meetings, agency decisions and rulings, delegation of authority, filing of petitions and applications, and statements from agencies regarding organization and functions

Each daily issue of the Federal Register contains the following "Reader Aids":

  • Customer Service telephone numbers
  • Web site addresses
  • E-mail addresses for PENS (Public Law Electronic Notification Service) and Federal Register reference questions
  • Table of Federal Register pages published for each specific date in the current month
  • List of CFR parts affected/changed during the current month - this cumulative list provides the user with appropriate Federal Register cite to locate specific CFR changes
  • Reminders - these include reminders of specific rules going into effect on that day (and on the next day also in Friday's issue), comments due next week and a list of public laws passed this week

Each Monday, the Federal Register contains a CFR checklist, which describes the order of CFR titles, stock numbers, and the prices and revision dates for each issue published; this list provides an inventory of what a current set of CFR should contain.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) annual edition is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government. It is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to Federal regulation. The 50 subject matter titles contain one or more individual volumes, which are updated once each calendar year, on a staggered basis. The annual update cycle is as follows: titles 1-16 are revised as of January 1; titles 17-27 are revised as of April 1; titles 28-41 are revised as of July 1; and titles 42-50 are revised as of October 1. Each title is divided into chapters, which usually bear the name of the issuing agency. Each chapter is further subdivided into parts that cover specific regulatory areas. Large parts may be subdivided into subparts. All parts are organized in sections, and most citations to the CFR refer to material at the section level.

The revision dates are printed on the cover and title pages of each issue. The revision dates on each CFR issue is crucial to the updating of each section therein. That date allows users to rely upon the List of Sections Affected to locate updates and proposed changes to regulations as published in the Federal Register. The List of Sections Affected is also available on the Internet.

The Library maintains a variety of subject indices to support research in the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations. These include:

  • CFR Index - official GPO publication, maintained since 1970
  • List of Sections Affected - official GPO publication, maintained since 1949
  • Federal Register Index - official GPO publication, 1936-82
  • CIS Federal Register Index - 1984-98

A tutorial on the uses of the Federal Register is available on the Internet and is in the Library collection as The Federal Register: What It Is and How to Use It (KF70 .A2U58 1992). Detailed procedures for the submission of proposed rules, comments and rules to the Federal Register are available in the Federal Register Document Drafting Handbook (KF70 .A21 1997).

Library Staff make available each week a selective compilation of Federal Register Items of Interest to the Department of the Interior. Items are arranged by date, then by agency.

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