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A Guide to the Code of Federal Regulations, or How to Make Sense of 175k+ Pages of Text

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A Guide to the Code of Federal Regulations, or How to Make Sense of 175k+ Pages of Text

Let’s face it, government regulations can be downright confusing. The United States Code of Federal Regulations has grown from 22,877 pages in 1960 to 175,268 in 2014, according to the George Washington Regulatory Studies Center.

That means it would take a fast reader about 1.5 years to read every federal regulation on the books! Fortunately, they are organized by topic for the most part. For example, if you want to view a regulation that impacts all energy companies, you would most likely be interested in ‘Title 10 – Energy. But that doesn’t mean all regulations that impact the energy industry are in Title 10. Additionally, even within each of the 50 titles there are about 3,500 pages on average.

So what is the Code of Federal Regulations? When Congress wants to do something that requires technical expertise or close oversight, it will often enact legislation that delegates authority to an administrative agency. That agency can then create rules that regulate future conduct and the manner in which these rules are made, as set out in the Administrative Procedures Act.

Rules and regulations created under this process that do not exceed the authority granted to the agency by the legislation have the force and effect of law. They are a type of primary legal authority. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR for short) is the topical arrangement of all of the federal rules and regulations currently in effect. It is organized into 50 titles that represent subject areas ranging from food and drugs to environmental protection. Some CFR titles have the same numbers as their US Code counterparts. For example, Title 12 of the US Code is for Banks and Banking and Title 12 of the CFR also covers Banks and Banking. However, some do not match up at all. Ok, so what is the US Code, you say? Let’s take one step back then…

What is the US Code? The United States Code (USC) is the consolidation of all laws of the United States. It is organized by subject matter by Title, similar to the CFR. When Congress passes a law, that law is recorded in the USC. The enforcement of those laws falls on the shoulders of the executive departments and agencies (e.g., CFPB, FDA, EPA).

…Back to the Code of Federal Regulations. The CFR is revised annually. The official CFR volumes are printed as paperback books every year. Not all titles are revised at the same time. For example, Titles 1 through 16 are revised January 1st of each year and titles 42 through 50 are revised October 1st of each year. The Government Publishing Office (GPO) provides an up-to-date version of the CFR called the eCFR.

Let’s say you find a regulation and want to cite it as a reference. CFR citations simply have a title number and a part/section number. Take the following example:

12 C.F.R. § 21.11

The first number ‘12’ represents the Title (Title 12: Banks and Banking). The second number ‘21’ represents the Part of the Title (Part 21: Minimum security devices and procedures, reports of suspicious activities, and bank secrecy act compliance program). The last number ‘11’ represents the Section (Section 11: Suspicious Activity Report).

The Part of the CFR citation is equivalent to the Chapters in the US Code. It is essentially a collection of related regulations. In the example above, Part 21 contains regulations on security and bank secrecy act compliance.

Before the first Section in a Part there is usually an authority statement. This is the statute that gives the agency power to make these rules. There is also a source statement. This is the citation to the volume and page in the Federal Register where these regulations were first published. Sometimes individual sections within a part will have their own source statements if they were added or amended separately from the part.

For more information, the United States Patent and Trade Office website has some good examples of how to cite the CFR and USC here.

How do I find the regulations that apply to me? So that’s great, you can now cite a regulation. But let’s say you are a compliance officer at your company, how do you go about finding all of the regulations that apply to your business? This is a much more difficult task. We’ll cover a few strategies you can use in a future post.

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