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Bills, once they become laws, seem to be archived and internally published somehow. I wonder how the executive branch picks up on and implements them when/after this happens.

Someone, somewhere in the federal executive departments and agencies must read these publications and ensure/oversee the implementation of new laws, and ensure existing ones are abided as well.

Is there a name, law or documentation for or documentary about this process or job?

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  • In a more perceptive democracy you would have learned/learnt this in a functional highschool civics class. I'm slightly perplexed that the Presidential role wasn't written about in all the answers since that is the executive.
    – civitas
    Apr 24 at 10:03
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    And at the other levels we shouldn't forget the states governors and city/county mayor's/managers (and even the assorted committee secretaries all about elsewhere).
    – civitas
    Apr 24 at 10:11
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    Seems like we need a sequel to I'm Just a Bill
    – Barmar
    Apr 24 at 14:39
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    @2080 Journalists do go into this. It just isn't flashy, doesn't change too much, and doesn't have a very public face to it, so there isn't too much to say about it that hasn't been said. Though, I do recall that there were quite a few journalist articles about the "behind the scenes" of a bill around the time the Affordable Care Act ('Obamacare') was passed. You'll get more explaining things related to the Patriot Act. You're basically pulling back a maintenance panel and looking at legal machinery. The audience for legal machinery is regrettably small for pitching a film.
    – David S
    Apr 24 at 17:31
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    It also depends on the legislation and the agency. I can explain the details for how the tax rule-making works, specifically, but that may work slightly differently for other agencies. The bottom line is that it's boring.
    – littleadv
    Apr 24 at 17:45

4 Answers 4

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The legislature and the executive branches operate separately from a separation of powers point of view, but that doesn't mean they're completely siloed off from each other. Executive agencies frequently work with Congress on bills that may impact their programs and operations.

Executive agencies will have Legislative Affairs offices that work as a bridge between Congress and the agency. It's their job to keep track of proposed legislation that may be relevant to their agency's work, to engage with Members and congressional staff on legislative proposals, and to communicate back to their agency's leadership about legislative events of interest. So the executive branch isn't just passively sitting back and discovering bills only after they've become law; they're constantly engaging with the legislative process and are well aware of new law and proposed legislation.

In addition, executive agencies have a General Counsel's office, which provides legal advice to the agency (depending on the situation, they may engage with other parts of the government like the Department of Justice or Office of Management and Budget on this where necessary). That office would be involved in reviewing the new law—ideally well before it becomes a law—and would provide guidance to agency management on what actions need to be taken to implement it. The exact details of this are going to vary somewhat from agency to agency; the process for the IRS to implement a major new tax bill (formulating new regulations, updating informational publications and internal manuals, changing tax forms, updating and testing computer systems, etc) will be different than the process for USPS to carry out a post office renaming.

In some cases, that implementation process would involve drafting new regulations or amending existing ones, which would go through the full rulemaking process before being finalized.

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Bills, once they become laws, seem to be archived and internally published somehow

They're published in the United States Statutes at Large, and (for permanent provisions) are incorporated into the US Code (USC).

Someone, somewhere in the federal executive departments and agencies must read these publications and ensure/oversee the implementation of new laws, and ensure existing ones are abided as well.

Each title and chapter of the USC defines which government agency is responsible for enforcing it. That government agency will then draft and publish regulations to implement the law, which once approved, are published in the Federal Register and codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

The regulations in the CFR are the government's interpretation of the USC statute and are the legal authority for the agencies' actions, unless a court decides otherwise. Judicial precedents are also a legal authority within the jurisdiction where they're given, which is why sometimes regulations are applied in certain jurisdictions but not in others (based on District/Circuit courts' decisions).

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    The process of getting making sure that the signed bill makes it to statutes at large and keeping an official record of the signed bill is formally the responsibility of the Secretary of State (one of that department's few non-foreign policy responsibilities) in coordination with the National Archives. The publication of the statute is handled by the Government Printing Office (GPO). All of these things are behind the scenes ministerial tasks that are basically invisible to the public.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 23 at 22:30
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    Usually, implementation of new laws, as opposed to publication of new laws, is handled by senior civil servants and political appointees in the relevant affected agencies, as coordinated by the White House Office and the President's Chief of Staff (when necessary). A minority of laws are for the courts to apply in cases before then as raised by the parties and don't require agency action to implement.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 23 at 22:51
  • @ohwilleke I'd love if you or someone else elaborated on more specifics of the implementation process, who the people/staff positions involved are and how information flows between them!
    – 2080
    Apr 24 at 17:42
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    Statutes at Large is already the second step, it first is published as a slip law.
    – user71659
    Apr 24 at 20:27
  • @2080 I don't know more than that but would welcome input from others.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 24 at 21:06
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The executive branch will always know if a bill has become law because they are the final step in the process for turning a bill into law. The only time this isn't the case is when a president vetos a bill and that is overridden by a 2/3rd vote in both the house in the senate.

HOW LAWS ARE MADE

The Bill Is Sent to the President When a bill reaches the President, he has three choices. He can:

  1. Sign and pass the bill—the bill becomes a law.
  2. Refuse to sign, or veto, the bill—the bill is sent back to the U.S. House of Representatives, along with the President’s reasons for the veto. If the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate still believe the bill should become a law, they can hold another vote on the bill. If two-thirds of the Representatives and Senators support the bill, the President’s veto is overridden and the bill becomes a law.
  3. Do nothing (pocket veto)—if Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes law after 10 days. If Congress is not in session, the bill does not become a law.

The Bill Is a Law

If a bill has passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and has been approved by the President, or if a presidential veto has been overridden, the bill becomes a law and is enforced by the government.

Agencies also have staff counsel that review bills and provide briefings and advice to agency heads and staff.

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  • Your quotation contradicts you in part. Absent any presidential action, a bill becomes a law ten days after passage by Congress if Congress is in session at that time. Apr 24 at 17:12
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    @JohnBollinger The bill is still required to be sent to the president and they have to be fully aware of it before that is even a possibility. There are not methods for a bill to become law without the president and executive branch being aware of it.
    – Joe W
    Apr 24 at 17:16
  • The mention of the existence of staff counsel is very helpful and goes into the intended direction of my question!
    – 2080
    Apr 24 at 17:37
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Here is something that nobody has mentioned so far: any Bill requires a sponsor who will propose it, lobby for it, call in favours, whatever it takes to get the Bill passed. So, imagine that it becomes law, by being signed or otherwise (see answer by @Joe W), and then the Executive "forgets" to implement it. I'd expect the sponsor to do whatever it takes to get the law noticed.

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