Feb 08

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

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CFR QR CodeThis LibTour on Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR, which you can download here, was written by Cynthia Bassett, Electronic Services Librarian at University of Missouri Law Library.

LibTour Poster:

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This LibTour covers the Code of Federal Regulations, also known as the ‘CFRs.’ The color of the cover of the CFR changes each year, making it the most colorful part of any law library!  The Code of Federal Regulations brings together all of the regulations, also commonly referred to as rules, published by federal executive agencies, such as  the Department of Energy or the Food and Drug Administration.

In the process of making federal law, Congress passes statutes.  For the most part, statutes are fairly general.  With its wide range of duties, Congress doesn’t have the expertise or the time to iron out all the details for how a law will be put into action.  Instead, within the statute, they give that power to one of the executive agencies.  For example: let’s pretend that Congress passed a law saying that all Secret Service agents have to hop up and down each time they report to work.  They would then tell the Department of Homeland Security to write the regulations for this statute.  The regulation would explain how long agents have to jump, how high and how fast.

Federal regulations have the force of law so they are considered a primary source.  Regulations are published first as a proposed regulation in the Federal Register.  The public is given a chance to comment on the proposed regulation. Once the regulation has been commented on and passed, it is published as a final regulation in the Federal Register and then arranged by subject in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Searching the CFR in print is fairly easy.  There is an index that is published every year that should help you find the regulations you need by topic.  Thinking about our Secret Service example, we can check the Index for the phrase Secret Service and find the regulations that govern them, such as 31 CFR 408. This citation translates to Title 31 of the Code of Federal Regulations Section 408.  If you have a statute citation in hand and need to know the regulations associated with that statute, you can use the Parallel Table of Authorities which you can find in the most recent Index for the CFR.

When researching regulations, it is important to make sure that you are looking at the most recently passed regulations.  Since the Code is only published once a year, it is likely that the regulation you are looking at may have changed. To do this, you’ll want to look at the List of Sections Affected, a companion publication to the CFR.  Even more recent than that is the CFR Parts Affected, which is found at the very back of each most recent issue of the Federal Register.

The Code of Federal Regulations is available to search for free online.  The Government Printing Office places electronic versions of the CFR on their website, the GPO Federal Digital System.  that can be browsed or searched. The e-CFR, a currently updated version of the Code of Federal Regulations, is unofficial, but is very current as it is updated within a day or so of regulations being passed.  The CFR is also available on Westlaw and Lexis.