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Legal Research: A Guide to Administrative Law

Rules and Rulemaking

Administrative laws at the federal level are typically called rules (or regulations). Rules are promulgated to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy. The terms "rules" and "regulations" have the same meaning in the context of federal administrative law and are used interchangeably. Rules are published in two official sources: the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations.


Federal agencies are organizational arrangements created by Congress in order to carry out law and policy. Agencies provide the detailed rules and guidance needed in order to clarify and properly execute statutes. Agencies cannot act unless Congress has delegated the authority for them to do so and must not act beyond that authority.


Rulemaking is the process used by federal agencies in creating, amending, or repealing rules. Congress grants rulemaking authority to federal agencies in order to implement legislative statutes.  "[R]egulations issued pursuant to this authority carry the force and effect of law and can have substantial implications for policy implementation."

Rulemaking is largely governed by standards set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq.). Typically, an agency must give the public notice of a proposed rule before it goes into effect (5 U.S.C. § 553(b)). Notice is accomplished by publishing the proposed rule in the Federal Register. After the proposed rule is published, the public is given an opportunity to submit comments on the proposed rule (5 U.S.C. § 553(c)). The agency may take the comments into consideration before the final rule is published and takes effect. The entire process is frequently referred to as notice & comment rulemaking or informal rulemaking.*

A detailed chart of the federal rulemaking process, "The Reg Map," is available on, the website of the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

* Formal rulemaking occurs when rules are required by statute to be made on the record after opportunity for an agency hearing; this process happens much less frequently than informal rulemaking.