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Government Information:
Searching Government Web Sites

Why search government Web sites?

Government agency Web sites provide public access to government information such as tax forms, census data, statistical information such as the consumer price index, contact information for elected officials and much more.

Tips and techniques for a successful search

Unfortunately, each Web site is different and works in a different way. However, each site will have a help area to guide you in your search. If you do not know where to get started, begin with USA.gov.

USA.gov

USA.gov (http://www.usa.gov), the U.S. Government's official web portal offers multiple ways to retrieve government information.

USA.gov

One search method is by topic. Let's say you are researching Internet fraud as a topic for a paper.

From the first USA.gov home page under Information by Topic, scan the list of available topics. The section description for Consumer Protection includes the word "scams" which provides a clue that this might be a good place to look first.

Information by topic

Click on the link for Consumer Protection, to go to an alphabetical index.

Alphabetical index

Clicking on the letter "I" will take you directly to the listing for Internet fraud.

Internet Fraud

Click on the link. What did you find there?

Another nice feature about USA.gov is the ability to search for information in multiple ways.

If you know the agency you need, use the A-Z Agency Index.

A-Z agency index

This will take you to a complete alphabetical listing of all U.S. Government agencies. If you knew information on Internet Fraud was going to be found at the Web site of the Federal Trade Commission, but didn't know the address for the agency's Web site, the A-Z agency index is an easy way to get there.

However, most government information on a particular topic is going to be produced across multiple agencies. By going to Cross Agency Portals (http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Cross_Agency_Portals.shtml) you will be taken to an alphabetical index of hundreds of topics.

Cross Agency Portals

Using the previous example of Internet Fraud, you could check the listings under the various Consumer headings for more information on the topic.

If you are still unsure of where to begin your search, you can search by keyword in the search box in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

Keyword search

The disadvantage to this search is, that if your search terms are too general, you will retrieve many irrelevant documents.

Now let's look at another government information portal, GPO Access.

GPO Access

The other major U.S. Government information portal is GPO Access (http://www.gpoaccess.gov).

GPO Access

This is the Web site of the Government Printing Office, which publishes most of the government information produced by federal agencies. Like USA.gov, GPO Access allows you to search by topic and provides a comprehensive A-Z list of resources. An important feature of GPO Access is the ability to search the U.S. Government Catalog. This catalog contains a listing of all government information produced since 1994 and works much like the library catalog.

If you are looking for information on Internet Fraud in the U.S. Government Catalog, from the GPO Access home page, click on the link for the A-Z Resource List.

Link to A-Z Resource List

This will take you to an alphabetical index.

A-Z Resource List

Click on the letter "C" and find the listing for Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.

Link to Catalog of U.S. Government Publications

Clicking on the link will take you directly to the catalog.

Catalog of U.S. Government Publications

Enter the search terms "Internet Fraud" into the catalog and click on Go (you can also search by subject, title or author by changing the words in the drop down box). You will retrieve a list of records that looks like this:

Catalog records

If the document is available online in full text, a link will be provided. If the document is not available online in full text, click on the article title.

Article title

Then click on the link for Locate in a Library.

Link to Locate in a Library

Do a search for a library near you.

Locate in a Library

If it is listed as being available at a USMAI library, you can request it through the library catalog.

Item available at a USMAI Library

If it is not available in a USMAI library, you can request the document through DocumentExpress.

Searches by Legislative, Executive, and Judicial sections of GPO Access easily let you find information such as the text of a particular bill, the Code of Federal Regulations, or a court opinion.

Thomas

A Library of Congress Web site called Thomas (http://thomas.loc.gov) is an information portal that enables you to quickly find legislation and public laws.

Thomas

Simply enter your search terms and hit submit and bills relevant to your search term will be listed and can be viewed in full text.

Laws and legislation from the 93rd Congress (1973-1974) to the present are available online in full text.

If you are not finding what you need, like the UMUC databases, most government Web sites have a Help or FAQ section. You can also contact the UMUC library 24/7 for assistance.