Digitizing the Historic Federal Register

In an effort to close the gap in the official digital record of the Federal Register, the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) partnered with the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Federal Register to digitize the 1936-1994 official print volumes of the Federal Register and provide public access via govinfo.gov.

The Federal Register, AKA, The Daily Journal of the United States Government, is the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and presidential documents. The publication of the first issue of the Federal Register was March 14, 1936, which included a total of 16 pages. Between 1936 and 1994, over 1,779,000 Federal Register pages were published.

Under the management of GPO’s Suzanne Ebanues and Heidi Ramos (Library Services and Content Management), significant progress has been achieved on the Historic Federal Register Digitization Project since October 2015. First, GPO staff packed over 1,860 books and transferred 300 boxes of the Federal Register issues from the Office of the Federal Register to GPO Headquarters, maintaining the chain of custody.

Recently, GPO staff completed the pre-digitization preparation and processing of over 15,400 Federal Register issues, indexes, and codification guides. This work included a general condition assessment, the flagging of each issue of the Federal Register in the bound books, and verification and additions to the Federal Register issue inventory.

Furthermore, through the Library of Congress’ FEDLINK, a request for proposals for preservation digitization services of the Federal Register was announced on September 10, 2015 and issued on October 28, 2015. Proposals were due on November 24, 2015 and currently, we are in the final acquisition stages. An award is expected soon.

In early summer, GPO expects to gradually begin providing online public access to the digitized historical volumes of the Federal Register, at the issue level, on govinfo.gov. Following the award of the digitization contract, the vendor will scan a sample of Federal Register issues to test their processes.  After a quality control review, this test sample will be used during the FDsys development.  The remaining Federal Register issues will be sent to the vendor for digitization in decade batches.  Our plan is to then release those decade batches on FDsys shortly after the digitization and quality control review are completed. 

Stay up-to-date on our progress via our FDLP.gov project page.

Federal Register Fun Facts:

  • The largest issue of the Federal Register to date, with 6,828 printed pages, is the May 3, 2002 issue. This contains the United States v. Microsoft Corporation public comments.
  • The largest Federal Register volume to date, with over 87,000 published pages, is the 1980 volume.
  • From 1936 through 1972, the Federal Register was published on the day after it was prepared, including Saturdays, but not Sundays and Mondays or the day after Federal holidays.
  • GPO has never missed a deadline for printing and distributing the Federal Register.
  • January 1, 1947 was the first issue to have a Proposed Rule category.
  • With the June 4, 1938 issue (3 Fed. Reg. 1237), the Federal Register began giving table of contents information on the first or second page.


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