Finding Government Documents Today

Prepared by Peggy Roebuck Jarrett and Cheryl Nyberg.
C-2: Finding Government Documents Today
July 17, 2005
98th Annual Meeting and Conference of the American Association of Law Libraries.

PowerPoint Presentations: Silent Movie & Finding Government Documents Today. Note: The audio files have not been copied to the web versions of the slideshows. The Silent Movie is automatically timed.


Government documents are publications of governments: the federal government, state and local governments, foreign governments, and intergovernmental organizations. This presentation and handout focus on federal government documents, particularly distinct reports, studies, handbooks, manuals, and guides.

Until the mid-1990s, documents ("docs") were often left to specialists working in libraries that participated in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Some law school, state, court, public, and academic libraries had-and still have-large collections of print and microfiche documents, often organized by Superintendent of Documents classification numbers and sometimes not listed in library catalogs.

The advent of the Internet and the Congressional thirst for saving money led to an ambitious plan by the Government Printing Office to move FDLP documents to an "electronic-only" format. At the same time, agencies started putting publications on their websites rather than paying to print documents. In this new environment, the good news is that many more documents are accessible from our desktops. The bad news is that government documents can still be difficult to find, in part because of the multitude of places to look. Contacting a "docs" librarian is still a great strategy. But this handout and the companion presentation will equip you with basic skills and strategies for finding federal government documents today.

General Strategies for Finding Federal Government Publications

Identify the publication, including title, author, date, and issuing body. Is it the work of an agency, committee, commission, or advisory board? The more information you have, the easier your search.

Search general or legal news stories for clues. Sources include:

Look for links in web news sources that may lead you directly to the document.

Search the Internet and try more than one search engine, when necessary. Examples include:

Search the issuing agency's website. Publications may not be obviously noted. Look for links to "library," "documents," "news," "press," "reading room," or "FOIA."

Search the Government Printing Office's Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.

Search library catalogs, particularly agency library catalogs. For links to federal agency websites and/or catalogs, see:

Check "hot docs" websites listed below.

For older publications, be prepared to encounter multiple formats: paper, microfiche, CD-ROM, Internet. For new publications, the Internet is the most likely source.

Ask for help from an experienced documents librarians via Law-Lib or GovDoc-L or call your local Federal Depository librarian,


U.S. Government Meta-Sites

Sample Documents
FirstGov Logo FirstGov:
Official U.S. government portal designed to be centralized location for federal, state, tribal, and local government information.
GPO Access:
Multi-part official U.S. government site. Searchable databases include Information generally from 1994 forward, although access is provided to core historic documents. Site also hosts agency websites and provides a variety of finding aids for government information, specifically:

Catalog of U.S. Government Publications:
New Electronic Titles,
U.S. Government Online Bookstore:

Code of Federal Regulations & Federal Register. (in PDF)
Congressional Record.

Congressional bills, hearings, and reports
Public Papers of the Presidents.
Filename: j0215314.wmf
File Size: 59 KB National Technical Information Service (NTIS):
Searchable catalog of publications issued since 1990. Online ordering available, but note that some publications may be free from the originating agency's website. NTIS publishes many technical, scientific, and business publications.
Archived IRS forms and publications
FDA Investigations Operations Manual.
Homeland Security Information Center
Summary of State Speed Laws.
Unpublished test data reports issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act


Documents in the News

If the document is controversial, see if a nongovernmental organization obtained and posted it. Blogs have become great sources for information about and links to government documents in the news.

 Filename: j0371064.wmf
File Size: 15 KB BeSpacific:
Weblog that includes notable government documents. Archives at

Documents in the News: Current Events Research:
Organized by year and issue. Includes news and nongovernmental sources. From the University of Michigan Documents Center.

JURIST: Reports & Memos:
Weblog of legal news-making reports from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

ResourceShelf's DocuTicker:
Daily list of reports issued by government agencies and other groups.


Selected Congressional Sources


The best-known source for Congressional documents, it includes the full text of bills, committee reports, the Congressional Record, and selected hearing transcripts. But where else can you look?


GPO Access Legislative Branch Resources:
Bills; committee reports, prints, documents; House and Senate rules, manuals, and procedures; and reports of Independent Counsel investigations.

Sample Documents

Congressional Directory.
Congressional Record. (permanent)
Economic Indicators.
U.S. Government Policy and Supporting Positions. (Plum Book)

Congressional Budget Office:
Provides nonpartisan economic and budget analysis to Congress. Home to many key statistics: deficits, discretionary spending, revenues, outlays, etc.
The Effects of Reserve Call-Ups on Civilian Employers
Federal Funding for Homeland Security
Historical Effective Tax Rates: 1979 to 2002
Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Provides nonpartisan research and analysis to Congress. CRS reports are chock full of useful information, but public availability is limited. For a list of Internet sources, see the Gallagher guide on Congressional Research Service Reports,
Border Security: Inspections Practices, Polices, and Issues.
Criminal Charges in Corporate Scandals.
National Emergency Powers.
Stem Cell Research and Patents.
The GAO Seal Government Accountability Office (GAO):
Investigative arm of Congress. Produces hundreds of reports to Congress, plus testimony and correspondence, usually at the request of House and Senate members. Subject coverage is broad and includes energy, environmental protection, financial institutions, international affairs, and justice and law enforcement. Formerly, the General Accounting Office.
Comptroller General decisions and opinions
GAO reports (blue cover) and testimony
Principles of Federal Appropriations Law. (Red Book)
Filename: BL00660_.wmf
File Size: 18 KB House and Senate Committees:  and
Links to Committee and individual websites. Committee websites can be a good for source for documents, particular hearings.
The Joint Committee on Taxation website lists publications from 1981 to date with links to recent publications,
Use Thomas anyway. The legislative branch page,, links to House and Senate websites, directories, biographical information, and the homepage of the various Legislative Agencies and Commissions.


Selected Executive & Judicial Branch Sources

    Sample Documents
"Welcome to the United States" collage Citizenship and Immigration Services:
"Laws, Regulations, and Guides" includes interpretations, administrative decisions, policy and procedure memoranda, and several manuals and handbooks. Part of the of Homeland Security Dep't, the USCIS performs the service and benefit functions that were part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Affirmative Asylum Procedures Manual.
A Guide to Naturalization.

Handbook for Employers.
United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA Publications Source:
Links to the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP), the
National Environmental Publications Information System (NEPIS), and other EPA programs and offices. NEPIS includes full-text of of more than 11,000 EPA documents

EPA Online Library System (OLS):
Includes several related databases, notably the National Catalog, which contains
holdings for most of the EPA Regional Libraries. Some EPA Regional Libraries post
documents. See for a list of libraries.
Clean Air compendium of policies and guidance
Environmental impact statements
Help! It's a Roach!
Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Report to Congress on Radon in Drinking Water.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation:
" Publications and Documents" lists items for for bankers and consumers. Includes statistical sources and a searchable database of enforcement decisions and orders. Links to an archive of discontinued publications.
Community Reinvestment Act Ratings and Evaluations.
FDIC Banking Review.
Merger Decisions: Annual Report to Congress.

Federal Judicial Center (FJC): 
Research and education agency of the federal judiciary. Website includes a variety of publications on courts and court administration, judges, alternative dispute resolution, evidence, and judicial history. Includes the Federal Judges Biographical Database, a searchable database going back to 1789.
Analysis of Briefing Requirements in the United States Courts of Appeals.
Citations to Unpublished Opinions in the Federal Courts of Appeals: Preliminary Report.

Federal Securities Law.
Federal Trade Commission:
"Commission and Staff Reports" collects reports to Congress, staff reports, and studies from 1996 to date.
A CAN-SPAM Informant Reward System.
Improving Health Care: A Dose of Competition.
Spyware Workshop: Monitoring Software on Your Personal Computer.
Food and Drug Administration:
"FDA Manuals and Publications" links to a variety of manuals, enforcement reports, guidance documents, information sheets, and bulletins. Categories include Compliance, Enforcement, Guidance for Regulated Industries, Import/Export, and Inspections.
Regulatory Procedures Manual.
Performance Report to the President and the Congress for the Prescription Drug User Fee Act.
Justice Department:
"Publications & Documents" includes annual reports, DOJ briefs in major cases, memoranda, terrorism-related legal documents, guidance documents, and reports. Arranged alphabetically and by issuing DOJ component.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS):
Federally sponsored clearinghouse of information on criminal justice with reports on corrections, courts, drugs and crime, juvenile justice, law enforcement, victims of crime, Many publications include statistics. Subscribe to JUSTINFO for biweekly email notification of new publications.

Electronic Commerce: Legal Issues.
Final Report of the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Report.
United States Attorneys' Manual.

Family and Employment Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: A Longitudinal Analysis.
Punitive Damage Awards in Large Counties, 2001.

Youth Gangs in Indian Country.
Who's Really in Prison for Marijuana?

Great Seal State Department,
"Major State Department Publications" includes links to specific titles and categories. Contents include information on countries around the world, commercial guides, directories of embassies and diplomatic missions, and major periodic reports. Some reports from 1990-97 are archived at
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
Country Reports on Terrorism.
Trafficking in Persons Report.
Treaties in Force.
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights:
Final Commission reports, state advisory committee reports, briefings, and papers. Older publications can be ordered in print. Draft reports and other materials not accepted by the Commission were removed from the website in Jan. 2005. The University of Maryland, Thurgood Marshall Law Library, has a large electronic collection of historical USCCR publications, including drafts removed from the official website,
Broken Promises: Evaluating the Native American Health Care System.
Civil Rights Implications of Post-September 11 Law Enforcement Practices in New York.


Statistical Sources

"The gateway to statistics from over 100 Federal agencies." This motherlode of statistics excludes judicial and legislative branch sources.
Sample Documents / Statistics

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts,
"Statistical Reports" links to statistics compiled by the agency

Bankruptcy statistics
Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics.
Judicial Business of United States Courts.
Wiretap reports

Bureau of Justice Statistics,
Datasets and publications on crime and victims, law enforcement, prosecution, the federal justice system, criminal offenders, courts and sentencing, corrections, and more.
Subscribe to JUSTSTATS to receive email notifications.
Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics.
Uniform Crime Reports.
DOL Seal - Link to DOL Home Page Bureau of Labor Statistics,
Regular statistical reports ("economic news releases") and customizable tables. International, national, regional, state, and metropolitan data.
Consumer price index
Employment and unemployment rates
Monthly Labor Review.
Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Wages, earnings & benefits
Census Bureau,
The major statistics compiler and publisher in the federal government. Stats on commerce, the economy, demographics, housing, and more. Create your own statistics with one of several databases.
American FactFinder
Census of Governments.
North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)

Statistical Abstract of the United States.
IRS Tax Statistics:
Produced by the Statistics of Income Division and other areas of the Internal Revenue Service. Individual and business, charitable and exempt organizations. Many reports are in spreadsheet format.
IRS Data Book
Statistics of Income.


Beyond the .gov Domain

University of Michigan Documents Center Federal Government Resources on the Web
Highly recommend meta-site maintained by the University of Michigan Documents Center. Links to individual sites, lists of lists, bibliographies, historic documents, and "documents in the news."
Federal Agencies Directory
Simply organized directory compiled by the Louisiana State University Libraries in partnership with GPO.
Provides permanent public access to the websites and publications of defunct U.S. government agencies and commissions. A partnership between GPO and the University of North Texas. Examples: Commission to Strengthen Social Security, Commission on Structural Alternatives for the Federal Courts of Appeal, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, National Partnership for Reinventing Government, and the Office of Technology Assessment.
Internet Archive Wayback Machine
More than 40 billion pages from 50 million public sites. Government documents and websites are well-represented. Especially useful for documents and pages removed from existing websites.

See also The Memory Hole.

Agency Guidance Table
Chart of agencies with direct links to their publications, forms, opinions/actions, and manuals. Compiled by the Washburn University School of Law Library.
Administrative Decisions & Other Actions
Links to administrative actions available on the Internet and outside the scope of the Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register. Organized by agency and subject. Compiled by the librarians at the University of Virginia Library.

Strategies for Finding Documents Not Found on the Web

Some government documents elude even the best efforts of Internet searchers. Consider the following possibilities and tactics:

Document is not on the Internet. Hard to believe, but true: not all information is found on the Internet! So-called "fugitive" documents may turn up in unexpected places. Or they may not be found at all.
Contact the issuing agency or the author, if one can be determined.

Contact your local depository librarian for assistance in identifying and locating the document. Federal Depository Libraries, even in the "e-only" era, still acquire many government documents in print and electronic formats.

Contact your local Senator or Representative for assistance. Sometimes they can obtain material directly from agencies. This approach is especially useful in obtaining Congressional Research Service reports.

Consider submitting a Freedom of Information Act request. For addresses and links, see Principal FOIA Contacts at Federal Agencies. Try the FOI Letter Generator from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Document is classified. Unofficial sources--especially newspapers--may be all that are available. Older documents may be available from the National Security Archive or  the Declassified Documents Reference System (Gale Group). See Declassified Documents and Other Sources for Secrets from the Michigan State University Libraries.
Document is unpublished. Contact the issuing agency or the author, if one can be determined.

The document may have been transferred to the National Archives. Search the Archival Research Catalog or other NARA databases and finding tools..

Consider whether a Presidential library might hold the item.

Understand that some agencies now publish very few "documents." Information appears on agency websites but not as discrete documents.

Document pre-dates the Internet. Although some agencies have digitized older publications (notably, the EPA), many have not.

Search library catalogs and/or the Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications and its predecessors.

Look for commercially published versions from Bernan, BNA, Hein, etc..

Who knows? Maybe the document isn't a government document at all! Other possibilities include:
  • speeches or statements made to the press
  • publication by nongovernmental organizations and independent think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution, the Cato Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, the RAND Corporation, etc.
  • an item stored in a database that is impervious to general Internet searching strategies. Check lists of public records databases like BRB Publication's Free Public Record Sites and Search Systems Public Records.


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