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Government Documents: Legislative Process and Publications

Includes links and information regarding Government Documents sites and sources.

The Legislative Process

Legal, policy and legislative researchers often study how Congress considered a particular piece of legislation. A variety of questions may underlie this effort. For example: What were the policy and intent of Congress in approving a particular piece of legislation? Which committees and Members were the lead players? What arguments were asserted for or against the legislation and who made them? How was the legislative language amended as it advanced through the congressional process? What were the votes on proposed amendments and final passage? To research these and similar questions, one must identify the legislative steps the legislation followed and the materials that document what was done at each step. This information – the legislative steps and accompanying documentation – is known as legislative history. 

Gurevitz, Mark. "Legislative History: A Basic Guide For." March 22, 2002.  (accessed 08/27/2012).

Explanations of the Legislative Process

There are many sites on the WWW devoted to our federal legislative process. They range from those that present great detail to those that try to present bare basics with humor and music. If you need a civics review, check out one of the following links.

Government 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law from Project Vote Smart.

How Our Laws are Made (House Document 110-49); revised and updated by John V. Sullivan, Parliamentarian, United States House of Representatives, July 2007

Congressional Publications and Finding Aids


GovInfo  (Formerly GPO Acess) is a service of the U.S. Government Printing Office that provides free electronic access to a wealth of important information products produced by the Federal Government. The information provided on this site is the official, published version and the information retrieved from FdSys can be used without restriction, unless specifically noted. FDSys is an important resource for Congressional publications and legislative research. Information on FDSys is continuously maintained and regularly updated but no retrospective content is added. However, FDSys does provide the largest total number of legislative resources, including these that document the legislative process:

  • History of Bills: Bill summaries and status with links to the Congressional Record.
  • Conference Reports: Links to active ("Current Congress") and archived ("Previous Congress") conference reports.
  • Congressional Bills: Full-text of each bill version (e.g. introduced, engrossed, enrolled).
  • Congressional Record and House Journal: Debates on issues and legislation.
  • Congressional Record, Bound.
  • Congressional Record Index: Index to the Congressional Record
  • Public and Private Laws: Full-text versions of all signed bills.
  • Statutes at Large
  • U.S. Code: The codification of laws.