Using Your Government as a Writing Tool

Today we will talk about the Federal Register of the U.S. Government. (I know. Soon this blog will be guest-featured on Fun with Flags. It’s not everyone who’s waiting to be discovered by Sheldon Cooper.)  Why are we talking about the Federal Register?  It makes sense that I talked about it on my law blog, GroundBasedSpaceMatters, but why here?  Because I like to share.

If you are a citizen it tells you about all the notices of all the rules that apply to you or the businesses you deal with. Just remember, the contents of the Federal Register apply to you.   If it’s in the Federal Register and it applies to you, it applies to you even if you don’t actually know about it.  It’s  legal notice to the world, to everyone from coal miners with pneumoconiosis to members of the military-industrial complex.  If you are a writer, however, it is also grist for the mill.

What is it?  The Federal Register, as you may or may not know, is a repository of recent regulations left by roving bands of regulators. It is also a treasure trove of transportation trivia. It publishes every week day and contains notices of proposed regulations, final rules, agency meetings, petitions for exemption, copyright royalty distributions for satellite transmissions, Coast Guard safety zones, airworthiness directives, and those mysterious self-regulating organizations that the Securities and Exchange Commission keeps mentioning. The Federal Register lets you find things and know things and use them to hurt your characters with. The Federal Register is a thing of beauty.

The Office of the Federal Register, which runs the publication, describes it as the newspaper of the Federal Government. No actual news, however, is allowed. See 44 U.S.C. § 1505(b).  (Paragraph (c) suspends the publication requirements in the event of an attack on the continental United States. (Not sure what that means for Hawaii)).

Why You’ll Like It.  You do not need to be a lawyer to benefit from checking the table of contents every day. If your main character wheels electrical power, he might care about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or maybe the emission rules of the Environmental Protection Agency. If your heroine trades in securities, you might want to know what the SEC is thinking of requiring so she can rant about how hard her job is on a hot date. If your main character has a buddy who is a law student taking Administrative Law he can subscribe and treat the Federal Register as a palate cleanser in between all the heavy reading.  It’s kind of like Reddit.  Sort of.  As a space lawyer in my day job, I check the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial space transportation, the Federal Communications Commission for telecommunication satellites, and for remote sensing of our home planet the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also has notices about fisheries, lots of notices. I don’t read the ones about the fish.

When I first stared practicing law, the Federal Register arrived at my old law firm printed and bound on cheap, thin paper; the savvy lawyers in the firm would check its table of contents every day to see whether there was anything to fuss about. The Federal Register will now email you its daily table of contents. You can sign up here. Later, when I worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, and I already knew about the things I cared about before they were published, I almost never checked it. I didn’t need to, but I should have, and I would have if I’d known about this email service. I truly believe that.

I don’t know, this whole topic might be too exciting for Fun with Flags.

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