Federal Register / Rulemaking / Unified Agenda
In the course of its lawmaking, Congress often delegates quasi-legislative authority to executive departments and agencies so that they might effectively implement laws and carry out the broader policy determinations that Congress itself made. Departments and agencies engage in rulemaking in exercising this authority. Congress also often empowers departments and agencies with quasi-judicial authority to make adjudications. To guide the overall use of this authority, Congress enacted the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq. and 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.) and the Federal Register Act (44 U.S.C. § 1501 et seq.), so that there is a prescribed process for rulemaking and adjudications and for public notification.
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Rulemaking is the term used in APA to describe the process of drafting, making available for public comment, and issuing rules and regulations. Adjudication under APA might involve a range of activities—a dispute involving a regulation between the federal government and an entity (such as a citizen, an organization, or another governmental unit), the issuance or renewal of a license that an agency has been empowered to grant, or permission to undertake an activity regulated by an agency.
Rulemaking, adjudications, and other activities of the executive branch in carrying out laws enacted by Congress, and actions of the president pursuant to statute or on the basis of his constitutional authority, must appear in the Federal Register and can be monitored or tracked there. The Federal Register contains federal agency regulations, proposed rules and notices, and executive orders and other presidential documents. A citation to the Federal Register might look like this: 64 Fed. Reg. 34109, indicating volume 64 and page 34109. For convenience, the date of the Federal Register in which a cited page appears is often also provided. The Federal Register is indexed monthly.
The Federal Register is published every business day. It is available in print from GPO, and online at FederalRegister.gov and through GPO’s Federal Digital System
U.S. Government Printing Office: Federal Register 2.0
The Federal Register is also available in electronic formats from a number of sources. The publisher of the Federal Register, the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), provides other services as well in carrying out its mission under the Federal Register Act. Because OFR must make documents available one day before publication in the Federal Register, it publishes a List of Federal Register Documents on Public Inspection on its web site at
The National Archives offers an online tutorial for the Federal Register: The Federal Register Tutorial.
Twice a year, usually in April and October, OFR also publishes the Unified Agenda, also called the semiannual regulatory agenda, which lists rules and proposed rules that federal agencies expect to issue in the following six months. This document is also available in print from GPO and online through GPO’s Federal Digital System FDsys.gov, under “Collections,” then select “Unified Agenda.”
Overview of the Rulemaking Process (from § 5.42 Overview of the Rulemaking Process, in Real World Research Skills):
1. Grant of rulemaking authority
– Congress delegates authority directly to agencies
– President may delegate constitutional authority to subordinates
– President or agency head may re-delegate authority to subordinates
2. Proposed Rule stage
– Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reviews under E.O. 12866
– Agencies publish Proposed Rule in Federal Register (FR) for public comment
3. Final Rule stage
– OMB reviews again under E.O. 12866
– Agencies publish final rule in FR
– Respond to comments, amend Code of Federal Regulations, set effective date
4. Congressional review
– Agencies submit rules to Congress and Government Accountability Office (could nullify rule)
5. Effective date
– Thirty-day minimum, sixty days for major rule, no minimum for good cause
– Agency may delay or withdraw rule before it becomes effective
Also see Code of Federal Regulations / CFR; Committee Veto / Congressional Veto; Electoral College; Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA); Public Law (Pub. L.); Statutes at Large; U.S. Code; § 9.70 Laws and Their Codification, in Congressional Deskbook; § 5.42 Overview of the Rulemaking Process, in Real World Research Skills.
- The Congressional Review Act (CRA) (CongressionalGlossary.com)
- Federal Register – FDsys
- Federal Register Table of Contents today – FDsys
- Unified Agenda – FDsys
- Federal Register – Govinfo.gov
- Office of the Federal Register (OFR) – NARA
- Executive Order 12866 Regulatory Planning and Review – OMB (10-page PDF)
- “Federal Regulatory Reform: An Overview,” CRS Report IB95035 (15-page PDF)
- “Tracking Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Basic Sources,” CRS Report 98-461 (21-page PDF)
- The Federal Register Tutorial – NARA
- “Researching Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Resources for Congressional Staff,” CRS Report RL33895 (17-page PDF)
- “The Trump Administration and the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions,” CRS Report R45032 (36-page PDF)
- “Counting Regulations: An Overview of Rulemaking, Types of Federal Regulations, and Pages in the Federal Register,” CRS Report R43056 (26-page PDF)
- Congressional Operations Briefing – Capitol Hill Workshop
- Drafting Federal Legislation and Amendments
- Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing
- Custom, On-Site Training
- Drafting Effective Federal Legislation and Amendments in a Nutshell, Audio Course on CD
- Congress, the Legislative Process, and the Fundamentals of Lawmaking Series, a Nine-Course series on CD
Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook: A Practical Guide
Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates
CongressionalGlossary.com, from TheCapitol.Net
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