It’s the Perfect Day to Consider How to Research Presidential Actions

George Washington’s Birthday

I noted in this space a year ago that the official name of the federal holiday marked on the third Monday of February is George Washington’s Birthday, and that it is through the efforts of retailers that we have come to call it “President’s Day” in common vernacular. Whatever name we choose, it is a good day to consider how to research presidential action. If you follow the news at all, then you know that presidents issue “executive orders” to accomplish policy goals and proclamations to note an event or idea. An executive order may mandate subsequent action by executive agencies, such as issuing or rescinding regulations, or by exercising prosecutorial descretion by prioritizing actions based on resource limitations. Other actions include signing statements regarding enacted bills and memoranda. Whatever the action, it will originate in a written document that, unless it concerns a classified action, will likely be published and publicly accessible.

Presidential documents first appear in the Federal Register, the business daily publication of the National Archives and Records Administration. That publication includes proposed rulemakings, final rules, and notices of agencies as well. Presidential documents are then gathered into a Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents that is published online. Depending on the time period of interest, they may be included in the series Public Papers of the Presidents.

Annually the presidential documents are compiled in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the publication that compiles and codifies all the regulations that are published in the Federal Register. Unlike the regulations in the other titles, Title 3 contains only presidential documents from a given year, generally approximating the calendar year, and depending on the closing date for publication of that issue of Title 3. Also, Presidential documents are not organized by chapter and section numbers, so they are cited by their name and the page number on which they start, followed by the year of the Title 3 edition.

These publications are available online at govinfo, the second generation digital platform that succeeds FDSys, the first such system launched by the Government Publishing Office. Many are available at the Legal Information Institute, and are also included by commercial legal database providers, such as LexisNexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, and Fastcase. In addition to using full text searching in the online versions, published finding aids include an index to the CFR, and lists of sections affected for the Federal Register and parts affected for CFR. In the library, you will find the print version of C.F.R. and of recent issues of the Federal Registare in the Federal Materials Room. For additional information, please see the Presidential Materials section of Susan Boland’s Research Guide to Administrative Law.

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