A Quick Tour of Government Information Sites
Jack Solock, Special Librarian
One of the most amazing and wonderful things about the Internet is the availability of an ocean of United States and other government information. This month we will take a selective guided tour of that information, in an attempt to allow you to dip your toes into the water. Government document librarians at the US Federal Depository Libraries navigate this ocean for a living, so a depository library is always an excellent place to begin your explorations. The Government Printing Office's Federal Depository Library Program (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/dpos/adpos003.html) allows you to find the nearest U.S. Depository Libraries via a state or area code search. These libraries "provide free public access to a wide variety of Federal government information in both print and electronic formats, and have expert staff available to assist users." Selected international depository (http://www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/Documents.center/dldep.html) directories are also available.
There are of course, many sites that act as general guides to government information, known in the library world as "pathfinders." We will discuss just a few of these pathfinders. One of the best places to start is the University of Michigan Library's Document Center (http://www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/Documents.center/). This is a meta-site that provides annotated links to international, national, state, and statistical government information. Each of the major geographic sections is organized topically. The University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries maintains a Government Publications (http://www-libraries.colorado.edu/ps/gov/frontpage.htm) page that links to international, national, and state information resources. Larry Schankman, government documents librarian at Mansfield University, provides a U.S. Government and Politics (http://www.clark.net/pub/lschank/web/gov.html) page, a well annotated resource that includes pointers to international, national, and state resources, as well as full text documents and pointers to other meta-pages. The Government Printing Office (GPO) Pathway Services (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/dpos/pathbrws.html) pages provide a browsable index of government Internet sites arranged by subject from accounting to women. Though not a pathfinder in the traditional sense, World Wide Web Sites Reported by Federal Organizations (GGD 97-86S), an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) publication recently released by the U.S. General Accounting Office, is a 183 page report that contains hypertext links (if your Acrobat Reader is WebLink enabled) to 4,300 sites reported to the GAO by 42 organizations. While the links are not annotated, sites are arranged by organization, making this, in essence, one of the most comprehensive "meta-sites" available. Access information for this report can be found in the June 20, 1997 issue of the Scout Report (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-970620.html#7).
Traditionally, U.S. government information sources have been divided into the three branches of the government. We will preserve that organization here.
Thomas (http://thomas.loc.gov/), a service of the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/) is the place to begin to look for legislative information. It contains full text access to bills and laws (including history, summaries and status) for legislation from the 103rd Congress (1993-94) onwards. It also contains House and Senate Committee Reports, the Congressional Record and Index, and has recently begun to add House Committee transcripts. The House of Representatives (http://www.house.gov/) and Senate (http://www.senate.gov/) sites contain committee and legislative information for each body, and are highlighted by member information (including contact information) for selected House and all Senate members.
The best meta-site for executive information is The White House (http://www.whitehouse.gov/). It contains information about the presidency and a searchable library of White House documents, and an Interactive Citizen's handbook, which acts as a meta-page for executive department web sites. It also contains a Briefing Room with selected current economic and social statistics.
Judicial information usually means court decisions. A number of sites carry Supreme Court Decisions, but the most comprehensive one can be found at FindLaw (http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/supreme.html). Decisions are searchable and browsable (by volume and year) back to 1906 at present. The Legal Information Institute (http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/) at Cornell University also contains Supreme Court decisions back to 1990, with selective coverage for earlier cases. And for those who would like to hear oral arguments before the Court, Northwestern University's Jerry Goldman maintains the Oyez Oyez Oyez (http://oyez.at.nwu.edu/oyez.html) site, selected oral arguments going back to 1955.
Federal Circuit Court decisions can be found at the U.S. Federal Courts Finder (http://www.law.emory.edu/FEDCTS/), provided by the Emory University School of Law. Searchable and browsable archives are available for decisions of the District of Columbia, Federal, and eleven regional Circuit Courts.
Piper Resources' State Court Directory (http://www.piperinfo.com/pl03/statedir.html) is an annotated listing of judicial web sites in the 50 states, which includes selected court opinions when available.
Judicial information also means laws, and one of the premier meta-collections of laws can be found at the U.S. House of Representatives Internet Law Library (http://law.house.gov/). This no nonsense page contains pointers to hundreds of international, national, and state laws and treaties.
The U.S. Government provides a tremendous amount of information at the organizational level, and many of these organizations provide a wealth of full text documents. Finding these can sometimes be a daunting task. However, there are several sites that track full text documents that are of great aid in this process. One of the larger archives of government documents is the Government Printing Office GPO Access (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aaces002.html) service. Here users can search over 70 full text document databases, including the US budget, Congressional bills, documents, the Congressional Record and Index, the Federal Register, GAO (General Accounting Office) reports, histories of bills, the Economic Report of the President, Economic Indicators from the Council of Economic Advisors, Supreme Court Decisions, and the US Code. GPO also provides specialized search pages (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/special.html) which allow more specific fielded searches on several of these databases.
In addition to the GPO pages, over 20 Federal Depository libraries (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aaces004.html) also provide access to these documents. Of these, the University of California (http://www.gpo.ucop.edu/) GPO gateway is of particular interest, because it goes beyond the usual search-only interface to these documents. For many of the documents, the UC gateway has added value to the search interface by making accessible a browsable index (you can get there from the "Description of all Databases" then go to the "catalog or table of contents listing" link). An excellent example of this is the Economic Indicators, a monthly compendium of tables and charts that tracks the US economy. Trying to find selected tables via search mode, and then scanning the table of contents, will quickly show how useful a browsable interface to this kind of a publication is.
Another excellent source of government documents is the University of Memphis Government Publications Department's Uncle Sam - Migrating Government Publications (http://www.lib.memphis.edu/gpo/mig.htm) site. This page links to hundreds of document sites, and is organized both alphabetically and by Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) classification. It also indicates which documents are only available electronically , and which are available in multiple formats.
International Government Information
Of course, the US is not the only government that provides Internet based information. One of the more comprehensive gateways to international government information is provided by the Northwestern University Library Government Publications Department. International Information (http://www.library.nwu.edu/govpub/resource/internat/) contains pointers to over 70 foreign government and over 80 IGO (International Government Organizations) pages. The United Nations provides a web site locator (http://www.unsystem.org/index.html) for its entire system of organizations. Some examples of country specific government information meta-sites are the National Library of Canada's Canadian Government Information (http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/cangov/egovinfo.htm) page, the National Library of Australia's Australian Governments' Entry Point (http://www.nla.gov.au/oz/gov/), and the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency's Government Information Service (http://www.open.gov.uk/) (UK). Cornell University Library's Latin American Government Documents Project (http://lib1.library.cornell.edu/colldev/ladocshome.html) contains briefly annotated pointers to statistical sources, as well as national executive, legislative, and judicial documents, arranged by country and agency.
State, County, and Local Government Information
In recent years, state, county, and local governments in the US have begun to provide their information on the Internet. One of the best gateways to this information is provided by Piper Resources' State and Local Government on the Net (http://www.piperinfo.com/state/states.html). This no-nonsense searchable and browsable index is organized by state. Under each state links may be found to state, regional, board and commission, county, and city government information. There are also links to multi-state and pertinent national organizations.
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
US Government statistical databases are one of the most content rich features of Internet government information. This information is usually located at the agency that created it, and until recently this fact often made such data difficult and confusing to find. Recently, the US government opened a gateway site to its government statistics. Fedstats (http://www.fedstats.gov/) provides searchable and browsable links to government statistics from over 70 agencies. The links are arranged by subject from agriculture to transportation, so that the user needs to know only what information he or she needs, not what agency created that information. Fedstats is a long needed and much welcomed addition that aids accessibility to US government information tremendously.
One of the really powerful features of the Internet is that it allows interactive selective database creation from raw government information. There are many examples of this, of which we will only highlight a few. Experimenting with these sites will quickly show you how powerful the ability to query a database can make the information in it.
Interactive Data Resources (http://www.lib.virginia.edu/socsci/interactives.html), provided by the University of Virginia Social Science Data Center, contains interactive editions of twelve US government statistical compendia. Users can customize data retrieval by geography, chronology, and data variable, and results can be displayed in multiple formats to allow further manipulation of data. Oregon State University's Government Information Sharing Project (http://govinfo.kerr.orst.edu/) does the same for ten demographic, educational, and economic databases. The US Census Bureau's Data Extraction System (DES) (http://www.census.gov/ftp/pub/DES/www/welcome.html) allows customized querying of five "large, public information data files." The Bureau of Labor Statistics Selective Access (http://stats.bls.gov:80/sahome.html) service allows users to query sixteen of its databases and download the statistics they need. The Department of Education's EdSearch (http://www.ed.gov/NCES/pubs97/97076.html) is a downloadable program that allows users to query over 2,600 tables, charts, and text files from eleven of its major publications.
Both the Census Bureau and the United Nations provide extensive searchable international statistical databases. The Census Bureau's International Data Base (IDB) (http://www.census.gov/ftp/pub/ipc/www/idbnew.html) allows querying of over 25 demographic, ethnic, and economic variables for over 200 countries. The United Nations InfoNation's (http://www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus/infonation/) allows searching of 37 social, geographic, economic, and population variables for 185 countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) FAOSTAT (http://apps.fao.org/) contains four major searchable statistical databases.
Reference Full Texts
Two excellent government full text information compendia are the Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States (http://www.census.gov/prod/2/gen/96statab/96statab.html) and the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook (http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/nsolo/wfb-all.htm). The former contains over 1,000 national, regional, state, and local tables on many topics. The latter serves as a small encyclopedia of information about every country in the world.
Some of the less flashy but more content rich sources of "government" information are the catalogs of the national libraries of the world. Valuable holdings information can be culled from these catalogs by researchers in order to pursue their endeavors in many fields. John W. East of The University of Queensland (Australia) Library provides National Library Catalogues Worldwide (http://www.library.uq.edu.au/ssah/jeast/), a simple pointers page to 43 national libraries. Instructions for accessing the catalogs are included.
This brief tour through government information resources was designed to give you just a flavor for the almost unbelievable wealth of government information available. Now that you have put your toes into the water, don't hesitate to contact your depository librarian to help you really swim this ocean!
This article originally appeared as part of the End User's Corner, a featured column of InterNIC News, which was published monthly by Network Solutions, Inc. and InterNIC from May 1996 through March 1998. As of April 1998, End User's Corner will be published by the Internet Scout Project.
Copyright Susan Calcari and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, 1994-1998. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the End User's Corner provided the copyright notice and this paragraph is preserved on all copies. The Internet Scout Project provides information about the Internet to the US research and education community under a grant from the National Science Foundation, number NCR-9712140. The Government has certain rights in this material.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Wisconsin - Madison or the National Science Foundation.
© 1997 Internet Scout Project