Once upon a time, you had to go to the library in order to know what was published in the Federal Register. Or have an “in” with a Congressional office.
What is the Federal Register? It’s the official publication for rules, proposed rules and notices of federal agencies and organizations plus executive orders and other presidential documents. It’s published daily by the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and was first published in 1935.
And what is a “rule“? Congress makes the law; federal agencies implement (execute) the law. A rule explains how an agency will implement laws and policies. It may also explain agency procedures.
Over at The Moderate Voice, I’m asking you to comment before June 21st on a matter relating to money in politics and corruption.
Federal agencies are required to publish notices of proposed rulemaking so that citizens can participate in federal government decision making. The comment period may be 30, 60 or 90 days; this information is included in the call for comments.
Rulemaking is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA). In intervening years, Congress has passed additional laws related to managing regulations, such as the Paperwork Reduction Act.
Enter the Internet
In the pre-Internet days, commenting paper and postage stamps.
Today, there’s a dedicated email address. I don’t want to think about how the volume has changed or how staff manage comments. But they must manage those comments.
When agencies publish final regulations in the Federal Register, they must address the significant issues raised in comments and discuss any changes made in response to them. Agencies also may use the notice and comment process to stay in contact with constituents and to solicit their views on various policy and program issues.
Comments create an administrative record that must be considered when developing the final a rule or regulation. Failure to do so leaves the agency subject to lawsuits or judicial action that invalidates a rule.
How many rules? According to the Congressional Research Service (2019), there are 3,000-4,500 final rules published each year. However, most “deal with routine matters.” There are fewer than 100 final major rules each year.
In 2014, Rep. Darrell Isa (R-CA-49) introduced HR 4195, which would have required publishing a free electronic version of the Federal Register. The printed copies would have been sold. The American Association of Law Libraries opposed the bill. It passed the House but did not move forward in the Senate.
- A history of the Federal Register (March 14, 1936 – March 14, 2006)
- How to comment on a rule
- How to submit an effective comment on a proposed regulation
- Library guide to rulemaking and the Federal Register
- Research guide to the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations