Code of Federal Regulations

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The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations (sometimes called administrative law) published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government of the United States. The CFR is published by the Office of the Federal Register, an agency of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to Federal regulation.



Administrative law exists because the United States Congress often grants broad authority to executive branch agencies to interpret the statutes in the United States Code (and in uncodified statutes) which the agencies are entrusted with enforcing. Congress may be too busy or congested to micromanage the jurisdiction of those agencies by writing statutes that cover every possible detail, or Congress may determine that the technical specialists at the agency are best equipped to develop detailed applications of statutes to particular fact patterns as they arise.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the agencies are permitted to promulgate detailed rules and regulations through a public "rulemaking" process where the public is allowed to comment, known as public information. After a period of time, the rules and regulations are usually published in the Federal Register.

Effect of administrative law

The regulations are treated by the courts as being as legally binding as statutory law, provided the regulations are a reasonable interpretation of the underlying statutes. This "reasonable interpretation" test or Chevron doctrine was articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in a unanimous decision (6 voting, 3 recused) involving a challenge to new Clean Air Act regulations promulgated by the Reagan administration in 1981. See Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc..[1]

For example, if Congress passed a law that simply stated that there are not to be "excessive" levels of mercury in any significant body of water in the United States (but defined things no further), an entity designated, as part of the law, to enforce it (probably the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)) could define in a scientific way what an excessive level of mercury is, as well as what constitutes a significant body of water. The Agency's definitions, and its plan of enforcement for what Congress intended (along with listed penalties for violation coming from Congress unless Congress specified otherwise) will all go into the CFR.

Also, enabling legislation can be passed by Congress which gives a federal non-Congressional entity wide latitude in creating rules (law of bases). For example, the EPA could be designated by Congress to pass rules "that control harmful pollutants"; the Agency could then pass broad rules (including definitions and enforcement provisions), in the absence of existing specific laws, to control lead emissions, radon emissions, pesticide emissions, and so forth. Such rules, including any Congressional- or Agency-created definitions and enforcement provisions, will all go into the CFR.

It is important to understand that the CFR itself is written by lawyers for interpretation by lawyers and judges, and like statutes, must be carefully drafted in highly technical language in order to have effective broad application yet limit the availability of loopholes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of federal government employees are not lawyers, and it would ask too much to force them to directly read, interpret, and apply the convoluted content of the CFR on a daily basis. Therefore, nearly all federal agencies have in-house counsel draft one or more internal manuals in plain English which set out daily internal operating procedures in very simple language that any layperson can follow. While such manuals do not really have the force of law, they are often the law as far as most employees and customers of such agencies are concerned, unless and until a dissatisfied customer of an agency appeals to a supervisor who does understand the CFR and the USC (or eventually sues the agency in court).

Publication of administrative law

The rules and regulations are first promulgated or published in the Federal Register. Each is given a CFR part number, such as 42 CFR 260.11(a), that can be cited immediately, without waiting for a page number from the physical copy.

NARA also keeps an online version of the CFR, the e-CFR, that is normally updated within three days after changes to the Federal Register.

While new regulations are continually becoming effective, the printed volumes of the CFR are issued once each calendar year, on this schedule:

List of regulation titles

thumb|right|Code of Federal Regulations, seen at the Mid-Manhattan Library. Editions of Title 3, on the President, are kept on archive. Notice that for the first year of each new presidency, the volume is thicker.


External links


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