Congress.gov: An Overview

congress.gov Congress.gov is the official website for United States federal legislative information, having replaced the former website, Thomas.gov, which was retired July 5, 2016.

The Congress.gov website is a very robust site with many features not formerly found in Thomas. At the top of the Congress.gov homepage is a search box, which by default allows you to search for current legislation — the 115th Congress.  Click on the drop-down and you can search across all legislation.  If your search is too broad, in addition to adding additional terms to narrow your search, you can also choose filters which are to the left on the web page.  You can filter by Congress, source, such as the Congressional Record or committee reports, status of legislation, subject, committee, sponsor, even political party.

All current members of Congress, with their contact information, committee assignments, biographical information, and links to their websites are listed.  From a Congressional member’s page there are links to their remarks in the Congressional Record.

If Congress is in session when you log-on, you can view live proceedings from both the House and the Senate.  Video archives of previous sessions for both the Senate and the House are available.

You can obtain the full text of bills and public laws, and there is a link to the United States Code.  For bills, there is a tracker which allows you to see the progress of a bill from its introduction through all subsequent action.

Most of the work of Congress is done in committees, and a list of all committees, along with their members, is available.  Hearing schedules, and some hearing videos are also available.  Committee reports are available back to 1995.

The Congressional Record, in PDF, is also available back to 1995, with optical character recognition, so that it is searchable.

Nine videos detailing the legislative process from a bill’s introduction to action by the President are available, as well as a link to U.S. Founding Documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Finally, from a member’s page you can set-up an email alert so that you can follow their legislative activity or you can set-up an email alert to track a specific bill.  For either type of alert, all you need to do is create an account with an email address and a password of your choosing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Regulatory Accountability Act: Proposed Legislation

Federal administrative agencies, which comprise the executive branch of the United States government, are required to conform to the procedures for their administration set out in the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, which has been called the “constitution of rule making.”

The law requires agencies to issue proposed regulations, solicit comments, and publish final regulations.

All proposed and final regulations are published in the Federal Register, which is published daily and is available in the BLS Library in print, and online by the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System, and in Hein Online, Lexis and Westlaw.

Federal Register

After the final regulations are published in the Federal Register, they are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Code of Federal Regulations

The print CFR is updated once a year in four separate installments, and new or amended regulations are published daily in the Federal register.  The CFR is also available in print in the BLS Library, and online by the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System, and in Hein Online, Lexis and Westlaw.

For an extensive discussion of the organization and history of U.S. administrative agencies and federal regulation, see the Federal Regulatory Directory.

According to recent news accounts, in 1946 the Federal Register comprised approximately 15,000 pages; in 2015 it comprised over 81,000 pages.

Many legislators, organizations, and citizens think this is over-regulation, which impacts our economy through excessive regulation of businesses, both large and small.

In order to reduce the number of regulations promulgated by administrative agencies in the future, a bill has been introduced in Congress to reform the federal regulatory process and cut red tape in federal programs.  This bill is called the Regulatory Accountability Act and was introduced in and passed by the House of Representatives, and is now awaiting action by the Senate.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would amend current law, with the following objectives:

  • Provide for earlier public participation on major rules and require federal agencies to disclose information they rely upon, making the process more transparent
  • Codify the duty to analyze the costs and benefits of new regulations
  • Codify many of the requirements now imposed by executive orders
  • Allow federal agency to hold hearings on the most significant regulations
  • Provide for judicial review of agency compliance for major regulations

 

 

The Sixties: the Digitized Version of the Congressional Record Recently Released

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the official record of the debates and proceedings of the United States Congress.  It is issued daily when Congress is in session, and is published by the United States Government Printing Office (GPO).  The GPO has partnered with the Library of Congress to release the digital version of the bound Congressional Record for the sixties, from 1961 to 1970 on GPO’s website:  www.govinfo.gov

This release covers debates and proceedings of the 87th through 91st Congresses, and covers historical topics such as:

  • The Administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
  • The Vietnam War
  • The Civil Rights Era
  • The Space Program and Moon Landing
  • Legislation of the Great Society and the War on Poverty, including
    • Medicare & Medicaid
    • Civil Rights Act of 1964
    • Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Congressional Record is also available on the www.gpo.gov.fdsys website from 1994 to 2017

The Congressional Record is available on microfiche, in bound volumes, in paper and online from a variety of sources, including the following:

  • The BLS Library receives daily paper issues as a U.S. Government Depository Library.  These issues are shelved in the Documents Reference Collection in the cellar. Call number:  DREF KF 35 .U578
  • Bound volumes are also shelved in the Documents Reference Collection in the cellar.  This collection covers 1873 (43rd Congress) to 2011 (112th Congress).  Call number: DREF KF 35 .U578
  • The Congressional Record in microfiche is located in the cellar microfiche collection covering 1873 (43rd Congress) to 2012.  Call number:  KF 35 .U577
  • HeinOnline has the daily edition of the Congressional Record:   1980-2017 (Volumes 126-163) and the bound volume edition:  1873 (43rd Congress to 2011 (112th Congress).
  • Finally, both Lexis and Westlaw have the Congressional Record online from 1985 to date.

For assistance with research in the Congressional Record, please feel free to consult a reference librarian.

 

National Library Week & Federal Depository Libraries

Library Week

April 9 – 15, 2017 is National Library Week, which is an annual observance sponsored by the American Library Association, and libraries throughout the country to celebrate libraries and librarians, and to promote the use of libraries.  One of the strong foundations of American libraries is a program run under the auspices of the United States Government Publishing Office called the Federal Depository Library Program, of which Brooklyn Law School Library is a member.

Depository Library Program

The Depository Library Act of 1962 created the present-day Federal Depository Library Program, increasing to two the number of depository libraries permitted in each congressional district, adding libraries from independent federal agencies, and authorizing the establishment of regional depositories. There are currently over 1200 depository libraries.  Brooklyn Law School Library became a depository library in 1974. In 1976 all law school libraries were eligible to become federal depository libraries. The BLS Library currently selects about twelve percent of the documents available through the depository program.  We select items in print, in microfiche, and electronically.

The mission of the Federal Depository Library Program  (FDLP) is to provide free, easily accessible and permanent access to federal government information.  Though FDLP libraries receive publications free of charge, they are responsible for processing the government documents they receive and making them available to members of the general public.  FDLP libraries must provide bibliographic control of the documents they receive, normally through their library catalog, and either integrate print copies of the documents into their library classification system or the Superintendent of Documents Classification System.  FDLP libraries are surveyed biennially to ensure that they are in compliance with the depository program and there are stringent procedures for libraries to remove depository items from their collections.

While all FDLP libraries may choose the classes of materials they want to receive, there is a basic collection that are all required to have.  This core collection is made up of mostly legal materials that all law students should be familiar with.  Some of the titles that we have in the BLS Library through the depository program are:

  • Code of Federal Regulations
  • Congressional Directory
  • Congressional Record (daily edition)
  • Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation
  • Federal Register
  • Public Laws of the United States
  • Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States
  • United States Code
  • United States Government Manual
  • United States Reports
  • United States Statutes at Large
  • Budget of the United States Government
  • Statistical Abstract of the United States

Celebrate Libraries next week and Depository Libraries every week by taking advantage of the BLS Library depository collection.

Congressional Research Service Reports

CRS

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library with millions of books, photographs, recordings and other documents including newspapers, manuscripts, and maps.  The Library is home to both the U.S. Copyright Office and the Congressional Research Service, which is the research arm of the United States Congress.  The Congressional Research Service works directly and primarily for the members of Congress, their committees and staff.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) answers hundreds of thousands of questions annually; it anticipates Congressional inquiries and provides timely, objective, interdisciplinary information in response.  The CRS attempts to address emerging issues and developing problems in anticipation of Congressional needs.

The CRS employs approximately 600 people, including lawyers, librarians, social and physical scientists, etc. and is divided into six interdisciplinary research divisions and then into subject specialties.

Responses to Congressional requests may be made in the form of memoranda, customized reports and briefings, presentations, seminars, etc.  However, the most prominent work product of the CRS are the Congressional Research Service Reports.  These are encyclopedic reports on topics with potential legislative action.  Hundreds of these reports are issued annually and thousands have been issued since the Congressional Research Service was founded in 1914, when it was originally called the Legislative Reference Service.

Congressional Research Reports are available electronically to members of Congress, Congressional committees, and the CRS sister agencies:  the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office, but there is no official access.

Brooklyn Law School Library subscribes to a monthly listing of CRS Reports from Penny Hill Press. Each month’s listing, arranged by subject, is available at the Library reference desk.  A brief description of each report is given and the Library can obtain the full report for a faculty member or student.

Recently a national grassroots group called DemandProgress launched a website containing new Congressional Research Service Reports:  http://everycrsreport.com

There are 8,400 reports on the site with more added each week. The reports are received directly from Congress and there is no charge for access.  You may browse the site by topic or search by keyword.  Topics of some recent CRS Reports include:

The First Day of a New Congress:  A Guide to Proceedings on the Senate Floor

Legal Services Corporation: Background and Funding

Terrorist Material Support: An Overview of 18 U.S.C. 2339A and 2339B

Women in Congress: 1917-2016.