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How to Trace Federal Regulations: A Beginner's Guide

Federal regulations are rules created by agencies, boards, or commissions that carry the force of law. This research guide contains basic information on tracking the origins and history of federal rules.


Udo J. Keppler. Government care versus government neglect. 1913. Miscellaneous Items in High Demand. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Our patrons at the Law Library of Congress frequently ask us for assistance in investigating the origins and statutory authority of federal rules and regulations. And no wonder–regulations are important to understand, because they have the force and effect of law just as federal statutes do, though they are not issued by Congress.

Instead, rules and regulations are created by a federal body such as an agency, board, or commission, and explain how that body intends to carry out or administer a federal law. In fact, these rules and regulations can often affect our everyday lives even more directly than statutes, by laying out the details of how we go about following the laws passed by Congress. This research guide will address the basics of how to “trace” a federal regulation, in order to not only derive its statutory authority, but also to learn more about its origins and history.