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Nuts and Bolts: Busy Times at The Federal Register

By Ed O'Keefe

Nuts and Bolts

This week's Nuts and Bolts report focuses on the Office of the Federal Register, a busy place these days as it publishes last-minute rule changes by the Bush administration and addresses other quadrennial tasks related to the presidential transition.

The Register serves as the federal government's daily newsletter, publishing new rules, proposed rules, executive orders and various notices from Federal agencies. This means processing a slew of last minute rules changes by the Bush Administration -- what some call "midnight regulations" -- related to the environment, science and labor, among others. The Register also publishes the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, or "the official journal of the presidency," as one staffer described it. It includes all of the speeches, executive orders and other formal letters written by the president. Once the Bush administration ends on Jan. 20, the Federal Register will possess the only official record of the Bush presidency until his papers are eventually displayed at his presidential library. The compilation switches from a printed weekly version to a daily online version at the start of the Obama administration.

One of the coolest responsibilities of the Federal Register however -- and the one The Eye went to see for himself -- is that it receives and then archives all of the certificates of ascertainment and certificates of vote filed by members of the Electoral College.

Electors met Monday in each state capital, and, by the time The Eye visited the Register on Wednesday afternoon, it had already received certificates from Arizona, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Montana and Wisconsin.

As the video above (shot by The Eye) demonstrates, the certificate of ascertainment lists the names of each state's Electors, while the certificate of vote includes the Electors' signatures. There are no federal requirements for the certificates, so each state has a different design. They must only list separately the number of Electoral votes cast for the presidency and vice presidency. Some states send a standard 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch piece of paper, while others send much larger documents.

Each state must submit its certificates by Dec. 24, but there is no federal penalty if a state fails to meet the deadline. Register staff is required to go in pursuit of missing certificates, a process that usually requires just a few phone calls. Previous Register directors however have gone so far as to sift through the mail at Washington-area Post offices in search of missing certificates. Once they are all processed and scanned, the staff stores them in a safe at the Register offices near the U.S. Capitol for one year, allowing any interested citizen to stop by and inspect them.

Watch the video above for a more detailed description of the process, courtesy of Amy Bunk and Allyson Christou, staffers in the Register's office of legal affairs and policy.

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 19, 2008; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  Nuts and Bolts  
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