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How to Ferret Out Midnight Regs Yourself

Click for a larger image. (Scott Klein/ProPublica)Tracking the life of a rule through the federal bureaucracy is an arduous process, but here are some tips and Web sites to help you get started. For more detailed direction, watchdog group OMBWatch is a great resource.

But here's a short version:

The government's Unified Agenda provides a calendar of recent regulatory actions completed or proposed by various agencies. This is often where plans to create or change a rule are first made available to the public. Warning: the Unified Agenda only comes out twice a year, and the schedules aren't always up-to-date.

After the rule appears in the Unified Agenda, it enters the Proposed Rulemaking Stage and gets sent to the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Here's where you can find rules are submitted to the OMB. The notice for a proposed rule is published in the federal register.

The rule proposal often includes a call for public comments, which are maintained in the federal docket. Here's where both the docket and the language for the rule can be found.

Searching through the docket is a good way to determine the parties interested in a particular rule. They can range from form letters signed by members of advocacy groups to long reports written by industry trade groups seeking to influence the law.

Once the public comment period is over, the agency is required to review the comments before sending it back to the Office of Management and Budget for final review.

Again, you can see if and when a rule has been submitted to OMB for review here.

You can also get a sense of who met with OMB before it issues the final rule.

When a rule is made final, it is published in the federal register. You can search the federal register. If you do not have the formal title of the rule, you can also search by agency, key words or even dates.

Unfortunately, the search engines for all of these Web sites can be cumbersome. Be prepared to try a variety of search terms. For example, if you are interested in a rule concerning the death penalty, you may want to try both "death penalty" and "capital punishment" as search terms. And be prepared to search through results that may not necessarily fit your search terms. The more information that you have on the particular rule for which you are looking, the better.

And of course, when you find a midnight regulation, let us know.

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