Researching Executive Orders - A New Twist

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It seems like you can’t look at the news lately without reading about executive orders. From reports on each newly signed order to controversy over presidential authority to make the orders and the courts authority to rule on them, executive orders have the public’s attention. All eyes are on the White House as we try to stay on top of the latest presidential action.

Last week, an interesting and concerning twist on the recent executive orders was discovered.  USA Today reported that the White House posted incorrect versions of newly signed executive orders on their website – a free source commonly used to access executive orders by the public.  The orders have since been corrected with the final versions.

That brings up some interesting questions, both for researchers and members of the public trying to keep up with presidential actions. What is a good source for executive orders? What should we be comparing executive orders to in order to determine if they are correct? What is the best source for a final executive order?

Whitehouse.gov has generally been considered a reliable place to locate executive orders. It’s a government website! It’s also probably going to be your first Google hit for the search “executive orders”. With the White House recently having proved to be an unreliable source for final executive orders, where can you locate official versions of executive orders?

A final version of a signed executive order is published in the Federal Register, and then it is reprinted in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The Federal Register should be your go-to source for locating the official version of a recent executive order.  The Federal Register has an excellent, easy to use website. The advanced search page allows you to narrow your search of the Federal Register to executive orders signed within a designated time range or by a particular president.

Another reliable source for a recent executive order is the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, which is made available by the Government Publishing Office (GPO). Presidential documents are organized by date and easily browsed. 

As for historical orders, executive orders have been published in the Federal Register since 1936. However, you can only search the Federal Register website as far back as the 1990s. Additionally, once an executive order has been published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this becomes the source that should be cited for the official version. The GPO website has editions of the CFR from 1996 to 2016. If you need to view the official copy of an executive order from before 1996, you will need to view a copy of the printed CFR from the year the executive order was signed. Editions of the CFR from 1938 to present are available online through the subscription database Hein Online.

While these publications should be your official sources, executive orders will not be immediately available through them. The Federal Register and the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents may take a couple days after signing before publishing the order. Whitehouse.gov is still going to be the first place to make an executive order available to the public. Other websites like the American Presidency Project may still be the easiest way to access historical executive orders. Use them for quick access!

However, when conducting in-depth research or relying on an executive order as a source, make sure to use the version from the Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations. Then you can be confident it is the official, authentic version. It is also how you can act as a check on other versions of executive orders if you suspect a problem!

Want to learn more about executive orders, from presidential authority to congressional oversight? Check out some of these resources.

Short Introduction

Executive Orders: Issuance, Modification, and Revocation by Vivian S. Chu and Todd Garvey (Congressional Research Service 2014).

Books for Further Reading

Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power by Douglas L. Kriner and Eric Schikler (2016) JK585 .K76 2016

Presidential Government by Benjamin Ginsberg (2016) JK516 .G56 2016

Presidential Power: Theories and Dilemmas by John P. Burke (2016) JK516 .B788 2016

The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction by Charles O. Jones (2016) JK516 .J636 2016

Why Presidents Fail: And How They Can Succeed Again by Elaine Kamarck (2016) JK585 .K36 2016

Waging War: The Clash between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS by David J. Barron (2016) KF5060 .B37 2016

Reclaiming Accountability: Transparency, Executive Power, and the U.S. Constitution by Heidi Kitrosser (2015) KF5050 .K58 2015

By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action by Phillip J. Cooper (2014) KF5053 .C578 2014

Constitutional Conflicts between Congress and the President by Louis Fisher (2014) KF4565 .F57 2014

The Law of the Executive Branch: Presidential Power by Louis Fisher (2014) KF5053 .F57 2014

Emergency Presidential Powers: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror by Chris Edelson (2013) JK558 .E34 2013

Power without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action by William G. Howell (2003) KF5053 .H68 2003

Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan by Richard E. Neustadt (1991) JK516 .N4 1991
Posted by Nicole M. Downing on Fri. February 24, 2017 9:06 AM
Categories: Uncategorized


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