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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FDsys Authentication of United States Code Online.

By Jessica R. Alexander, J. D., M.L.S., Reference Librarian

A major problem posed by use of online governmental resources is authentication. FDsys stands for the United States Government Printing Office's (GPO) Federal Digital System. It provides authenticated digitally signed PDF documents, including the United States Code. The new online service makes citation to a section of the United States Code a bit easier, but with caveats.

All fifty (50) titles of the United States Code are re-published in paper volumes in their entirety every six years, e. g., 2000, 2006, 2012.  In intervening years yearly supplements are published.  As of this date the GPO has paper volumes up to Title 10 for 2012. That means that forty titles have not been published in paper for 2012, not to mention amendments in 2013 from the 113th Congress.  FDsys represents an improvement., but not a total solution as far as authentication goes. For 2012 FDsys has published up to Title 19. However, FDsys issues a caveat on the site.  They warn:
"FDsys contains virtual main editions of the U.S. Code. The information contained in the U.S. Code on FDsys has been provided to GPO by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. While every effort has been made to ensure that the U.S. Code on FDsys is accurate, those using it for legal research should verify their results against the printed version of the U.S. Code available through the Government Printing Office."

Before FDsys,The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. 12.2.1. at 112 (Columbia Law Review Ass'n et al. eds.,19th ed. 2010) required citation to a federal statute "currently in force" to the official United States Code in its paper form.The rule required the writer to determine whether the title and section of the United States Code had been published in paper by the GPO. Since the GPO runs at least a year behind in paper publication the process could be cumbersome. Unfortunately, the process can still be difficult, even with FDsys.

 What to cite and how to determine the correct site:
  •  Consult a proprietary source like the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A. West) or United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) LexisNexis) to check the date of the last amendment(s) to a particular code section.
  • Check the library's shelves physically or ask a librarian to consult the check-in records in the library's catalog to determine the latest paper publication of the Code.
  • If the paper publication is not up to date with the amendments,cite to the U.S.C.A.,or the U.S.C.S. 
  • However, if FDsys is authenticated and up to date, the user can use the official United States Code citation as if the paper publication is on the shelves in libraries, maybe. The Bluebook is not clear on this:  Rule 12.2.1 says:
  • "...a new main edition of the official United States Code is published every six years, and an annual cummulative supplement is published for each intervening year. An exact copy of the United States Code in PDF format may be found at www.gpoaccess.gov/uscode/index.html;these versions may be cited as if they were the print code. Codified federal statutes enacted subsequent to the latest edition or supplement of the Code should be cited to an unofficial code, (e.g., West's United States Code Annotated) until published in the United States Code."
Another caveat about the Bluebook  and citation of the United States Code: Table 1 says the citation for for the United States Code and the proprietary publications begins with the volume number. This is not correct. There are no volume numbers in the set.  Instead there are title numbers (e.g. 18 U.S.C...). 
When I started writing this blog piece I thought there were set answers.  After I saw the caveat on FDsys, I realize that I should contact the Bluebook editors as well as other law librarians who may have comments on the inconsistencies both at FDsys and in the Bluebook.