U.S. Government Documents

This Pathfinder is no longer being actively maintained by ipl2.

What is a government document?

A government document is defined by the U.S. Code as any informational matter printed by the U.S. government, at government expense or as required by law, 44 USC 1901 (1994).

How to obtain a government document

This pathfinder will describe some basic sources to use in finding Federal (U.S.) Government documents. For a much more complete (and complex) guide to finding documents of Federal and other governments, we recommend the excellent page kept by Grace York at the Documents Center at the University of Michigan Libraries (http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/govweb.html).

Quick Links

How to search for a government document on-line

Over the past few years, more and more government documents have become available on the Internet.

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GPO Access
http://www.access.gpo.gov/
GPO Access is the web-page and online access point to the United States Government Printing Office. GPO Access features include online versions of many core government publications, especially those related to law and legislation. Some of these specific sources are discussed in more detail in the IPL's U.S. Law Pathfinder (http://www.ipl.org/ref/QUE/PF/lawpath.html).

Administrative materials include: the Federal Register (beginning 1995), Code of Federal Regulations (a codification of rules from the Federal Register, current and superceded sets from 1996 forward are online), administrative decisions of some agencies, etc.

Legislative materials include: U.S. Code (codification of Federal statutory law); Public Laws (un-codified laws as passed); Congressional hearings, committee prints, executive documents, etc.; Congressional Record; U.S. Constitution; etc. etc (also see Congress's Thomas web site for indexes and finding aids to much of this material, at http://thomas.loc.gov)

Executive materials (other than administrative) include: Public papers of the Presidents; Statistical Abstract of the United States; reports from the Council of Economic Advisors, etc.; assorted agency materials; etc.

Judicial materials include: Recent U.S. Supreme Court cases (and some old ones, but note that these are from an unofficial and incompletely-edited source); occasional links to other sources of note.

Sources and tools made available through GPO Access include:

  • Core Documents of U.S. Democracy
    http://www.gpoaccess.gov/coredocs.html
    Contains the cornerstone documents of the U.S. political system (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and commentary/auxiliary materials like the Federalist Papers), as well as direct access to selected sources in the following categories: Congressional, Presidential, Judicial, Regulatory, Demographic, Economic, and Miscellaneous. Also links to the Library of Congress's excellent web source for page images of early American souces.

  • Online GPO Access Database Search
    http://www.gpoaccess.gov/databases.html
    A tool for searching across multiple sources available through GPO Access.

  • Federal Bulletin Board
    http://fedbbs.access.gpo.gov/
    "The FBB enables Federal agencies to provide to the public self-service access to Federal information in electronic form." This site replaces the older telnet and ftp sites, which required passwords. Documents librarians will especially want to view the directory of Federal Depository Library Information, which includes downloadable versions of the List of Classes, FDLP Guidelines, and other files containing depository information. The site also provides access to the GPO's entire File Library Listing. The FBB is useful for finding some types of information that do not fall within another specific service, but is somewhat daunting to search. Also, text-searching access requires registration.

  • CGP (Catalog of U.S. Government Publications)
    http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cgp/index.html
    This is the online equivalent of the old paper issues of the Monthly Catalog: "The Catalog data set contains authoritative bibliographic records generated since January 1994 and is updated daily. For earlier indexing, consult the print counterpart of this index, Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications."
    The Catalog indexes both print and electronic information products of U.S. Federal agencies.


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National Technical Information Service (NTIS)
http://www.ntis.gov/
The official resource for U.S. government scientific, technical, engineering and businees-related information.

Sources and tools made available online by NTIS include:

  • FedWorld
    http://www.fedworld.gov/
    The NTIS introduced FedWorld in November 1992 to help with the challenge of accessing government information on-line. FedWorld provides a comprehensive central access point for locating and acquiring government information. It now offers online dissemination services to more than 60 federal agencies, bureaus, and programs as well as provides gateways to more than 400 government servers.

  • World News Connection
    http://wnc.fedworld.gov/
    Provides information form non-U.S. political speeches, television programs, radio broadcasts, newspaper articles, periodicals, and books — all translated into English.


U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
http://www.uspto.gov/
While effective patent searching can require a great deal of expertise in the field searched, the basic tools for looking up a patent (or trademark) registered with PTO are here, free, online.

Thomas: U.S. Congress on the Internet
http://thomas.loc.gov/
Congressional bills, bill status, historical documents, etc. Thomas is a very useful web site for legislative-history research on relatively recent Congresses.

Global/Government Information Locator Services (GILS)
http://www.gils.net/
Identifies and describes information resources throughout the Federal government, and provides assistance in obtaining the information.

Fedstats
http://search.fedstats.gov/
This one site simultaneously queries 14 federal agencies for specified statistics and numeric data.

U.S. Census: American Factfinder
http://factfinder.census.gov
If you can get past the slow, clunky interface, American Factfinder provides the free Web-based access to U.S. Census data, which it can present for you in maps, tables, etc. Since few paper reports from the 2000 Census (the results are still gradually being released) will be printed, this and other (vended) electronic sources are the main tools.

Statistical Abstract of the United States
http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/statis.html
A one volume print source, from the Census bureau, of major U.S. statistics, the Statistical Abstract is available at this location as a group of downloadable ".pdf" page image files.

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About the Government Printing Office

The Government Printing Office (GPO) http://www.access.gpo.gov/ prints, binds, and distributes the publications of the Congress as well as of the executive departments and establishments of the Federal Government.

Libraries participating in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) provide free use of documents to the general public without impediments. The Government Publications Office distributes the documents at no cost to the depository libraries. The libraries in turn must comply with the regulations in Title 44 of the U.S. Code and other guidelines spelled out by the GPO.

Federal Depository Library Program

As mentioned above, you can also obtain government documents from the libraries participating in the Federal Depository Library Program. The Federal Depository Library Program was derived from a joint resolution of Congress in 1828, in which Congress required a portion of the public documents deposited in the Library of Congress to be distributed to various federal government libraries and public and university libraries of each state. (4 Stat. 321)

There are a handful of regional (or complete) depository libraries, and a larger number of selective depositories, which receive only some of the depository items distributed by GPO. Lists of each can be found through the resources that follow. Also, the portion of any library that houses the federal depository is required to be open to the public.

For reasons ranging from political considerations to aversion to the overhead costs, not every document of every agency makes it to the GPO to be printed and distributed as a depository item. These can be referred to as "orphaned" documents and are best pursued through the agency in question.

Depository Libraries Home Pages
http://drseuss.lib.uidaho.edu/govdoc/otherdep.html
Links to depositories from around the country, arranged alphabetically by state.

Depository Library Listings (Mount Union College)
http://www.muc.edu/article/articleview/470/1/132/
Links to dozens of Depository Library web sites. Arranged alphabetically by school name.

Federal Depository Library Program Administration (GPO)
http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fdlp/index.html
View here online versions of all Administrative Notes, various Administration Publications, current news and speeches from the Depository Library Program, and other documents. Key titles include:

  • Cataloging Guidelines
  • Classification Manual
  • Electronic Federal Depository Library Program: Transition Plan
  • Federal Depository Library Manual (FDLM)
  • List of Classes (including the Superseded List)
  • Self-Study Instructions and Form
  • Study to Identify Measures for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library

Locate Federal Depository Libraries
http://www.gpoaccess.gov/libraries.html
Locate All Depository Libraries Alphabetically by State and City.


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Government Resources

You can also get government document information from the websites of the government branches.

Legislative Branch Sites

The United States Capitol
http://www.aoc.gov
The U.S. Capitol building's architecture, history, and works of art, including painting and sculpture; the office of the Architect of the Capitol. Officially Mandated

The United States Senate Home Page
http://www.senate.gov/

The United States House of Representatives Home Page
http://www.house.gov/

The Library of Congress
http://www.loc.gov/
Library of Congress Exhibits, The Library of Congress Online Catalog , Federal Research Division Country Studies American Memory Project, including 4000 photographs searchable by keyword or subject. Collections include Selected Civil War Photographs, The VanVechten Portrait Collection, and the Farm Services Administration/Office of War Information Collection. Officially Mandated.

American Memory Project
http://memory.loc.gov/
Historical collections for LC's National Digital Library.

Thomas
http://thomas.loc.gov/
Legislative Information

Federal Election Commission
http://www.fec.gov/

John C.Stennis Center for Public Service
http://www.stennis.gov/
The John C. Stennis Center for Public Service was created by Congress to promote and strengthen public service in America.

Judicial Branch Sites

Federal Judicial Center
http://www.fjc.gov
The education and research center of the Federal Courts.

United States Federal Judiciary
http://www.uscourts.gov/
Links to the administrative office of the federal courts, and provides links to individual courts.

Executive Branch Sites

The Executive Branch of the United States Government is under the control of and directed by the President of the United States. The departments listed below are cabinet level agencies.

The Whitehouse
http://www.whitehouse.gov/

Department of Agriculture
http://www.usda.gov/

Department of Commerce
http://www.commerce.gov/

Department of Defense
http://www.defenselink.mil/

Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov/

Department of Energy
http://www.energy.gov/

Department of Health and Human Services
http://www.os.dhhs.gov/

Department of Housing and Urban Development
http://www.hud.gov/

Department of the Interior
http://www.doi.gov/

Department of Justice
http://www.usdoj.gov/

Department of Labor
http://www.dol.gov/

Department of State
http://www.state.gov/

Department of Transportation
http://www.dot.gov/

Department of the Treasury
http://www.ustreas.gov/

Department of Veteran Affairs
http://www.va.gov/

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Other Possible Sources

Source books or printed finder books are also available in your local library. Such as:

Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications
United States Government Printing Office

State and Local Statistics Sources (Second Edition)
M. Balachandran &S. Balachandran
Gale Research Inc.
ISBN: 0-8103-5468-3

It identifies more than 5,500 publications and hundreds of online databases that provide statistics devoted to a state or sub-state geographic areas.

Statistics Sources (21st Edition)
Jacqueline Wasserman O'Brien &Steven R. Wasserman, Editors
Publisher: Gale
ISBN: 0-7876-0162-4 (set)

"A subject guide to data on industrial, business, social, educational, financial, and other topics for the United States and Internationally."

Federal Statistical Data Bases: A Comprehensive Catalog of Current Machine-Readable and Online Files
Compiled by William R. Evinger
ORYX Press
ISBN: 0-89774-255-9

The Federal Database Finder (4th Edition)
Compiled by Matthew Lesko
Information USA, Inc.
Publisher: Gale Research Inc.
ISBN: 0-7876-0361-9

A directory of free and fee-based databases and files available from the federal government.

The Archives — a Guide to the National Archives Field Branches
by Loretto Dennis Szucs &Sandra Hargreaves Luebking
Ancestry Publishing
ISBN: 0-916489-23-X

Records in the National Archives Field Branches offer a host of potential research uses, both general and specific

Encyclopedia of the American Constitution
MacMillan Publishing Company
ISBN: 0-02-918610-2

State Legislative Sourcebook 1997 — A Resource Guide to Legislative Information in the Fifty States
by Lynn Hellebust
ISBN: 1-879929-20-1

An extensive and up-to-date compilation of legislative information. Explains in detail what information is available in a specific state and where to get it.

Guide to Popular U.S. Government Publications (3rd Edition)
William G. Bailey
Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
ISBN: 1-56308-031-1

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This pathfinder first created by Jun Zheng. Updated and expanded by Andrew Larrick.

You may also wish to see the IPL's U.S. Law Pathfinder