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Political Science 330 Public Policy Analysis: Federal Legislation

An online course guide for researching government programs as part of policy analysis for POLISCI 330

Federal Legislation

Public Laws are enacted legislation (bills that survive the legislative process) identified by the number of the Congressional session and a sequential number, e.g., P.L. 113-1 is the first enacted public legislation by the 113rd Congress. Private laws are numbered separately and are rare. Both are issued first as separate "slip laws" and then reprinted in sequential (chronological) order in the United States Statutes at Large (Stat.), the "session laws" for each legislative session. Access online:

1st-81st Congress (1789-1951) via Law Library of Congress

82nd-current Congress (1951-current) via Government Publishing Office's Govinfo.gov: Browse by Congressional session or Search by selecting "Statutes at Large" as the collection

1776-current via Nexis Uni

The content of public legislation is fit into relevant subject titles of the official, government-printed federal code, the United States Code (U.S.C.), so that all current legislation on the same topic is gathered together, but this is a lengthy process. Each piece of legislation can add new language, delete existing language, renumber sections, or any combination of these. Two well-known, privately-published (unofficial) versions of the U.S.C. are United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) and United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.). Access online:

United States Statutes at Large - Additional Information

A Statutes at Large citation example is 78 STAT. 241 (see sample page). The first number in the citation refers to the volume and the second number refers to the page. The volume number does not coincide with the session of Congress that passed the laws contained in the volume. In this example, volume 78 contains laws passed by the 88th Congress.

If you do not have a citation for the law, choose the Statutes at Large volume that contains the year the law was passed, and look in the subject index at the back of the volume for either the name of the law or, if there is no formal name, for the subject that you need. The page number on which the information begins is listed.

In addition to the text of the law, the Statutes at Large shows the public law number, the date the law was enacted, the original number of the bill that created the law, the United States Code citation(s) where the law will be placed, and the legislative history of the law. In volumes prior to 1975, the legislative history is found in a table at the back of each volume; from 1975 forward, the history appears at the end of each law.

Andersen Library's physical copies are located as follows:

  • 1984-20xx: Federal (U.S.) Documents Stacks (1st/lower level floor), call number AE 2.111:
  • 1964-1983: Federal (U.S.) Documents Stacks, call number GS 4.111:
  • 1789-1963: Federal Documents (U.S.) Microform cabinets (1st/lower level floor), call number GS 4.111:
  • 1789-1875: also available online through the Library of Congress's American Memory site

Legislative History

Documents produced during the legislative process can be useful for understanding Congressional intent or clarifying statutory language. These documents include bill(s), amendments, debates, and committee publications (hearings, prints, documents, reports). The ProQuest Congressional database "Help" provides an explanation of the legislative process and the documents produced.

Search tips for ProQuest databases are below.