Title banner for the eCFR from the eCFR homepage with the logo for NARA.

The Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) in the National Archives and Records Administration  (NARA) are developing a continuously updated, electronic version of the Code of Federal Regulations called the eCFR. Now, new regulations that take effect immediately will be incorporated into the eCFR within a couple of business days. Regulations that have later effective dates will be added to the Cross References section of the relevant eCFR section within a couple of days and integrated directly into the text when the changes take effect. Despite the obvious value of the eCFR as a research tool, the OFR continues to advise:

“While we try to ensure that the material on the eCFR is accurate, those relying on it for legal research should verify their results against the most current official edition of the CFR, the daily Federal Register, and the List of CFR Affected (LSA), available online at www.federal.register.gov and www.govinfo.gov.” Understanding the eCFR, https://ecfr.federalregister.gov/reader-aids/understanding-the-ecfr/what-is-the-ecfr

So we are still supposed to use that research tool from the good ol’ days—the List of CFR Sections Affected—and the Federal Register to make sure we have the most current version of a regulation. Fortunately, those can be accessed online for free.

What is the List of CFR Sections Affected (LSA)? To understand the LSA, we first must understand how the print CFR is updated. The CFR is updated once every year (much more frequently than the print U.S. Code), but not all at the same time. Roughly 25% of the CFR is updated each quarter. The CFR has 50 titles, and they are updated according to the following schedule:

  • Titles 1-16 are updated as of January 1st
  • Titles 17-27 are updated as of April 1st 
  • Titles 28-41 are updated as of July 1st
  • Titles 42-50 are updated as of October 1st  

If I’m researching a CFR section in November and the section I’m looking at was last updated on January 1st, a lot could have changed! I need to check for updates using the List of CFR Sections Affected. The List of CFR Sections Affected is published monthly and lists any sections of the CFR that have been revised since the CFR was last updated. Checking for updates is a multi-step process:

  1. Check the most recent List of CFR Sections Affected
  2. Check the last issue of the Federal Register published during any full months between now and the most recent List of CFR Sections Affected available
  3. Check the most recent issue of the Federal Register for the current month

Here’s how it works. Say I am researching on March 11th the requirements for tamper-resistant packaging for cosmetics found in 21 CFR Section 700.25. That section was last revised on April 1st, so I need to check for almost a year’s worth of potential updates.

Step One. I pull up the latest version of the LSA available, which is the January 2021 edition. On the front cover, it shows that for Titles 17-27 it covers all changes from April 1st of last year through January 29th of this year. That gets me pretty close. I scroll through to find Title 21, and section 700.25 is not listed, meaning there are no updates. If it had been updated, there would be a citation to the Federal Register for the new rule. 

Step Two. I check for changes made between January 29th and March 11th using the Federal Register. The last issue of the Federal Register each month has a table at the back in the “Reader Aids” section for CFR Parts Affected during that month. I don’t need to check January because the LSA has the same issue date (January 29th) as the last issue of the Federal Register for January. So I move on to February and pull up the Federal Register from February 26th and check the list in the Reader Aids section, scrolling down to Title 21. No updates there. I am now updated through the end of February.

Step Three. I check for changes made between March 1st and March 11th, the current date. I pull up the most recent issue of the Federal Register, which is from today, March 11th. Just like in Step Two, I scroll to the Reader Aids section in the back and check the CFR Parts affected list. Nothing there. So now I can be completely confident that I can rely on the regulation I found.

Whew! That’s still a lot of work! It’s great to have the continuously updated eCFR available so I don’t have to hassle with all of those steps. It will be even more great when the government tells me I can rely on what the eCFR says.