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POL 200: Analyzing Politics: Government Documents

Navigating Gov Docs

When seeking official documents, consider which legislative body or agency might be involved. Some official documents reflect a partisan perspective. Others are intended to be more dispassionate. Some offices provide non-partisan research, including:

If you need documents from before 1975, you'll need patience and dogged persistence. Let a librarian help you find your way through the index to government documents, The Monthly Catalog. It's  not for the faint of heart. 

FOIA

Sometimes a document is not public. That's why we have Freedom of Information laws at the state and federal level. If a document you need isn't public, try using the FOIA request letter generator from the Student Press Law Center.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers an Open Government Guide and has been following issues related to open government as government services are outsourced to private corporations. The Federation of American Scientists also has a site devoted to their Project on Government Secrecy. (They’re against it.)

One treasure trove of documents obtained under FOIA is the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The FBI also makes its most frequently-requested FOIA documents available on their website, everything from files on the Aryan Brotherhood to information on interrogations at Guantanamo Bay.

Searching Our Catalog for Federal Documents

Our library is a federal documents depository, and the documents we receive are listed in the catalog. Though most of our documents now come in the form of URLs leading to online public documents, those that we have in paper are shelved on the lower level by the government's own shelving system (SuDoc number), which organizes documents by the agency they come from.

Searching Google for Government Documents

Most government documents today are made public through the Internet. You can limit a search to particular domains. Since many states and even some foreign governments have URLs ending in .gov, it can be a mixed bag to sort through. You can also zero in on a particular agency in a search.

Examples:

student debt site:.gov

tuition site:gao.gov

college students political participation site:congress.gov

college students site:mn.gov

Pro tip: use the "search tools" and then click on "any time" to limit a search by date.

Government Websites

Other Sites of Interest

Free Government Information Blog

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