In the previous post, I discussed the basics of U.S. government (its levels, branches, and how to approach finding government information). Now I'll list some of the best places to find government information, both by government branch and with a list of popular documents. First, here are a few places to starta search for government information, particularly when you're not sure what branch or agency might have collected the information that you need:
U.S. Statistical Abstract: current volume through ProQuest (CUL-affiliates only); previous years through Census website
FDsys: contains many congressional bills, docs, hearings, etc. (see right-hand navigation menu). In some cases, specific committees may not make their hearings available on FDsys until the year has ended–in this case, check ProQuest (below).
Statutes at Large (Public Laws): arranged chronologically by when a bill was passed. NOTE: the most current issues are not available online; Columbia affiliates may use the print copies at the Law Library.
Regulations: Congress passes legislation. The text of the legislation authorizes an agency, or agencies, to develop detailed rules to conform with the legislation. Executive Agencies issue regulations (rules). Both legislation and regulations have the force of law.
Federal Register: Agencies propose, open for comment, and finally publish "Final Rules."
New to the U.S., or just need to brush-up on some government basics? Here's a quick run-down of U.S. government at various levels and how to find government information. (I'll be writing two follow-up posts that tell where to find primary source information for each branch of government, and show an example of a gov info search.) First, here is a U.S. government chart and three basic guides to the federal government:
Each state has its own government which echoes the federal government in its three-branch organization. The Legislative branch is composed of the state senate and house (or assembly), the Executive branch is composed of the Governor and typically many departments (structure varies by state), and the Judicial branch is composed of the state court system, headed by the state supreme court. There are different local government offices at the county and the municipal (city/town) level. Typically, cities follow a similar pattern to federal and state government, with a Mayor acting as the chief executive officer of a city. Usually, a county is larger than and encompasses many cities and towns. However, New York City is made up of five boroughs, which are each actually counties (listed at right).
What Topics are Covered by Government Documents?
The U.S. government covers a surprising number of programs, and thus data and information is available on nearly any topic you can think of, including:
Looking for in-depth, expert research on current issues? CRS Reports are a great resource! The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is an arm of the Library of Congress that exists to keep members of Congress informed about issues related to pending legislation. CRS staff are subject experts in a variety of fields and they produce nonpartisan reports that relate these issues in an easily-digestible format.
CRS Reports can be hard to find. The federal government doesn't currently make them widely available to the public: you must request a CRS Report by title (or report number) from a member of Congress. However, you can find CRS Reports through subscription databases (like ProQuest), for some vendors for a fee, or for free from the following collections.
This presentation talks more about CRS, summarizes past legislation that attempted to make CRS Reports public, and how to write your member of congress to request a report. For more information about CRS Reports, see this OpenCongress.org page: http://bit.ly/CRSReports