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Getting the Jump on Regulations

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Did you know that new regulations are available online before they're published in the Federal Register?

As of this week, we've seamlessly integrated these advance, "pre-release", copies of regulations into Scout, our search and notification platform. Searching through regulations will now often list pre-release regulations at the top of the search results. If you create an alert, we'll send you a notification as soon as a matching regulation is available online, even if it's not yet published in the Federal Register.

We can do this because of the amazing work of the FederalRegister.gov team, and the treasure trove of government data they publish throughout the day.

The Federal Register is the official journal of the U.S. government, and all announcements of proposed and final regulations are published there. But by law, the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) needs to make every document that will go into the Federal Register available for (physical) public inspection, at some desk somewhere in Washington D.C., at least a day before publication.

But there's nothing stopping the OFR from simply posting these documents online the morning they're made available, so that's what they do. The OFR has an explanation of the process, and a list of all currently available documents for public inspection.

It may sound complicated, but it just means that every new regulation is online, in a pre-release form, at least a day before it goes into effect. An agency can theoretically withdraw a rule before formal publication, but this seems rare.

We were able to integrate pre-release regulations so seamlessly because the OFR goes further than just scanning their public inspection documents: they also make tons of data available on them through their incredibly powerful API. In fact, all of the content on FederalRegister.gov is also served up as a live data feed that anyone can use, with no usage limits or account registration.

If you're at all technically inclined, you should spend some time browsing their Developers section, and clicking around on the "Dev" links on the sidebar of their rule pages. There's a lot there. If you want an example of how to make use of it, you can take a look at our Ruby code for how we sync up our data with FederalRegister.gov's, and prepare it for searching.