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F&W ECOL 515: Natural Resources Policy (Spring 2021) : Issue overviews from the government (including CRS Reports)

Federal legislative histories

Proquest's Legislative Insight describes a legislative history this way:

Congress produces a variety of publications as a bill moves through the legislative process on its way to becoming a law. A compilation of these full text primary source publications produces a legislative history that is valuable to a wide variety of researchers. Legislative histories enable users to trace the development of a public law from its early consideration to its enactment, including development that spans more than one Congress.


Example: Endangered Species Act Amendments of 1982


How to find:  Search the database Proquest Legislative Insight (UW-Madison libraries subscribe to this database; must be a UW-Madison student, faculty, or staff to log in from off-campus)

  1. In Proquest Legislative Insight click in the search box to the right of SEARCH FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE HISTORIES and type your search terms.
    • Remember, laws are broader than regulations, so you may have to use broad terms to search your subject.
  2. Press <Enter> on your keyboard or click the magnifying glass icon at the right of the search box.  

Detailed guide from Proquest to searching and using Legislative Insight..


Interpreting your search results:  here's a description from Legislative Insight's Help section: 

Each history Research Page covers one law. It provides basic bibliographic information and citations for all publications associated with the law. The page offers a search within option that allows the user to search the full text of all publications associated with the law.

Wisconsin legislative histories

The UW-Madison Law Library has created a guide to creating Wisconsin Legislative History. 

Issue overviews from the government

Tracing the development of government policy on a particular issue can be complicated and time-consuming.  Some government bodies, as well as databases which the UW-Madison Libraries subscribe to, provide overviews of this history.  These overviews may be called "regulatory histories," or "legislative histories," or not have a common label at all.  These overviews/histories can be good places to start tracing the development of a government policy.

There may be multiple kinds of overviews on your issue.  There might not be any on your specific issue, but there may be one or more overviews on a broader topic that includes your issue.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports

The Congressional Research Service is the research division of the Library of Congress.  At the request of members of Congress, CRS produces overviews of particular issues. These overviews are called Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports


Example:   National Forest System (NFS) Roadless Area Initiatives  (October 9, 2012).


How to find:  Search the database ProQuest Congressional (UW-Madison libraries subscribe to this database; must be a UW-Madison student, faculty, or staff to log in from off-campus)

  1. In  ProQuest Congressional, under Choose content types to search on the left, click the box next to Search All Content Types to deselect all types of documents.
  2. Click the box next to CRS Reports, under Search All Content Types.
  3. Click in the search box to the right, next to under Anywhere except full text, and type your search terms.
    Optional:  Limit results by clicking All Available Dates under the search boxes; selecting Year is between; and typing beginning and ending years in the boxes to the right.
  4. Press <Enter> on your keyboard or click the Search button.

Other search hints

  • Some CRS reports are revised every year (or even more frequently), and published with the same title as previously. Make sure you're looking at the most recent report on your topic!  
    • Sort items by date by clicking Sort By Relevance at the top of a results list, and select Sort By Date (most recent first)
  • When you want to try your search again with different search terms, click Modify search above the search box to retain your search limits (including document type).
  • If you get too few results
    • Click the box that says "Anywhere except full text" to the right of the search box, and select "All fields including full text."  Try your search terms again.
    • Try broader search terms.  

Overviews on agency websites

Sometimes, government agencies have provided overviews or histories of laws or regulations on their websites,  These histories, or overviews, may include links to various regulatory documents, laws, and Congressional documents, or citations to these documents. 


Example: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Midwest Region page, Gray Wolves in the Western Great Lakes States, includes a "Chronology of Federal Actions Affecting Gray Wolf ESA Status in the Western Great Lakes States" in the middle column of the page. 


How to find:  Use Google Advanced to search, limiting the domain to .gov sites

  1. Go to Google Advanced.
  2. Type your search terms in boxes below Find pages with....
    • Along with words describing the policy you're researching, use search terms like "regulatory history" or overview.
    • ​With all of the words = inserting AND between each word.
    • With the exact phrase = using quotation marks.
    • With at least one of the words = inserting OR between each word; good for synonyms.
  3. Type .gov in the box to the right of site or domain (below Then narrow your results by...).
  4. Press <Enter> on your keyboard or click the Advanced Search button.

Other search hints

  • Limiting results in Google to those with the domain .gov retrieves not only federal government sites, but state and local government sites too.  Make sure you know which government agency is publishing a particular site.

Regulatory histories

Regulatory histories are compilations of Federal Register (FR) notices, proposed rules, and rules representing the complete rulemaking process associated with specific Public Laws or Executive Orders.  Want more info?  See What Is a Regulatory History from ProQuest


Example: Regulatory History of P.L. [Public Law] 94-588, National Forest Management Act


How to find:  Search the database Proquest Regulatory Insight (UW-Madison libraries subscribe to this database; must be a UW-Madison student, faculty, or staff to log in from off-campus)

  1. In Proquest Regulatory Insight click in the search box (it contains the words "Enter keywords or citations...").
  2. Type your search terms.
  3. Press <Enter> on your keyboard or click the magnifying glass icon at the right of the search box.
  4. Limit results to regulatory histories by clicking Regulatory History - Public Law or Regulatory History - Executive Order on the left, under Filter by and Content Type.


Other search hints

  • If you get too many results, try searching all the fields EXCEPT the full text.
    1. Click Advanced Search in the upper left portion of the page.
    2. Click "All fields including full text" to the right of a search box, and select "All fields except full text."
    3. Type your search terms again.


Detailed guide from Proquest to searching and using Regulatory Insight..


Interpreting your search results:  ​When looking at your search results, you may recognize words, but not what they mean in this context.  This page on Regulatory History/Agency View from Proquest's guide to Regulatory History takes you through a list of results, and what's in a single regulatory history.


Beth Harper's picture
Beth Harper
Memorial Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Steenbock Librarian

Karen Dunn's picture
Karen Dunn
Steenbock Library;
Science & Engineering Libraries (SEL)

I am happy to schedule consultations!