Introduction to U.S. Government Electronic Information

Locating and Evaluating Government Information

The United States government and the U.S. Government Printing Office are committing resources to providing government information on the web. Much planning is also going into how and who will have the responsibility in archiving electronic government information. Another issue is authenticating information. Issues of authentication are important because of possible problems with hacking of government sites and the possible alteration of documents in electronic format.

The main publisher of print U.S. government information is the Government Printing Office. It is the publisher of many legal publications in a law library: examples are the U.S. Code, the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Supreme Court opinions, and the U.S. Attorney General Opinions. FDsys is the web site gateway maintained by the Government Printing Office to provide U. S. government documents electronically.

What is the main problem in locating U.S. government information on the web?

Government documents are a major category of legal materials that most search engines miss. The main reason that they are missed is that many of the U.S. government legal materials are located within databases. An example would be a regulation that appears in the Federal Register but would not be found because the Federal Register is a database and the search engines do not find individual documents within that database. Many of these legal databases that are done by the Government Printing Office are in fact sold to Westlaw and Lexis and they reformulate the information.

In the past many government documents were missed because on the web they existed as .pdf files. (PDF=portable document format.) Increasingly newer versions of various search engines are doing a better job of picking up these files. In particular GOOGLE and AlltheWeb are indexing .pdf files.

One particular search engine currently available, which picks up U.S. government documents, is Google U.S. Government Search Engine, which searches federal government web sites, which have the extension .gov or .mil.

  • Avalon Project at Yale Law School: This site provides the full text of selected key historical documents in U.S. history.
  • Catalog of United States Government Publications: This site, provided by the Government Printing Office, is a bibliographic listing of U.S. government documents supplied to depository libraries. This site also indicates which depository libraries own a particular title. If a document is available electronically, a user can click on the URL to access the full-text document.
  • CyberCemetery: The site, hosted by the University of North Texas in joint partnership with the Government Printing Office, preserves the web sites of defunct federal agencies and commissions.
  • Descriptive Catalogue of the Government Publications of the United States, September 5, 1774-March 4, 1881 Available from anywhere to all members of the Northwestern University community: An Internet-accessible version of Benjamin Perley Poore's 1885 work. From drop-down box V, select "Descriptive Catalog of the Gov. Pubs. of the U.S.," set all the other drop-downs to "Not searched," then enter your search to locate early U.S. government documents on your topic.
  • FDsys (previously GPO Access): This site, maintained by the Government Printing Office, provides access to recent congressional reports, bills, the Congressional Record, the Federal Register, the Budget of the United States Government, and much more.
  • FDsys Help(previously GPO Access Help): Keyword search or browse the database of ask/answered questions by category. Categories include FDsys, Preservation and Authentication of Materials, and Federal Depository Libraries. Numerous sub-categories can help narrow your browsing.
  • Federal Agency Directory: This web site, hosted by Louisiana State University Libraries, has a hierarchical and alphabetical directory to provide rapid access to federal agency Internet sites.
  • Federal Depository Library Program Desktop: This site is a resource for federal documents librarians. It provides "news, information, and communication for and about the Federal Depository Library Program."
  • Federal Web Locator: This site from the Villanova Center for Information Law and Policy provides a link to over 200 World Wide Web servers with federal government information.
  • GPO Monthly Catalog (FirstSearch) Available from anywhere to members of the NU School of Law community: This resource provides bibliographic citations to over 522,000 U.S. federal government publications of all types, including "Congressional reports, hearings, debates, and records, judiciary materials, and documents issued by executive departments."
  • GPO MetaLib: A searching tool which allows the user to search across 53 federal government databases and retrieve relevant articles, citations, and government reports.
  • National Archives and Records Administration. Access to Archival Databases: This site provides "researchers with online access to over 50 million historical electronic records organized in over 350 databases that were created by some 20 Federal agencies."
  • Oxford Guide to the United States Government Must be used while on the NU campus: From Oxford University Press; includes biographies of all presidents, vice presidents, Supreme Court justices, notable members of Congress (including the current leadership), historical commentary on past elections, major Presidential decisions, international and domestic programs, and the key advisers and agencies of the executive branch, in-depth analysis of Congressional leadership and committees, agencies and staff, and historic legislation, and detailed discussions of 100 landmark Supreme Court cases and the major issues facing the court today.
  • ProQuest Government Periodicals Index Available from anywhere to all members of the Northwestern University community: This site allows you to search for articles appearing in over 275 periodicals published by the U.S. federal government since 1988.
  • USA.gov: The GSA portal which allows users to access all materials that are publicly available on federal agency web sites. It uses a search engine that confines its searching strictly to government web sites.
  • Wayback Machine: Nonprofit organization established to preserve Web sites by taking regular "snapshots". The wayback Machine provides links to older versions of a webpage.
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