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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 public law passed by the 113th Congress. Private laws are numbered separately and are rare. Both are issued first as individual "slip laws" and then reprinted in sequential (chronological) order in the United States Statutes at Large (Stat.), the "session laws" for each legislative session. Note: The statutes have volume numbers that do not correspond with the number of the Congress.

Access United States Statutes at Large

Available in Andersen Library's 1st-floor Federal Documents: AE 2.111: (since 1984), GS 4.111: (1964-1983), microfiche GS 4.111: for older, and online.

Public laws are codified 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 or edit 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 United States Code

Available in Andersen Library's 1st-floor Federal Documents, Y 1.2/5:, and 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 Process and Legislative History

Documents produced during the legislative process can help understand Congressional intent or clarify statutory language. Documents include bill(s), floor debates (in the Congressional Record), and committee publications (hearings, prints, documents, reports). Additional materials that may help are reports from the Congressional Budget Office, Government Accountability Office, and Congressional Research Service; and Presidential documents such as executive orders, messages when acting on legislation, or speeches.

Explanations of the legislative process and documents
Access legislative documents
Additional Historical Resources

ProQuest Search Tips

Use these commands when searching ProQuest databases:

AND requires both search words to appear, e.g., clinton AND trump

OR allows either or both search words to appear, e.g., clinton OR trump

NOT excludes a word, e.g., clinton NOT trump

Use " " around an exact phrase, e.g., "electoral college"

An asterisk (*) on a word stem accepts any endings, e.g., politic* will find politics, political, politician, etc.

ProQuest automatically searches within full text, so you may want to use some "proximity" commands between search words to control how far apart they can be:

NEAR/# requires search words to be within your specified # number of words of each other, e.g., campaign* NEAR/5 president*

Use () to group OR'd words in a complex search also containing AND, e.g., (campaign* OR debate* OR speech*) AND (clinton OR trump) AND immigra*