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Extras - Finding Federal, State and Local Governments on the Web

By Gloria Miccioli, Published on July 15, 2000

Gloria Miccioli has been a law librarian for 20 years. Her specialty is research. She has worked as Government Documents/Reference Librarian at the Jacob Burns Law Library of the George Washington University Law School; as Senior Research Librarian for Williams & Connolly; and is currently International Librarian for Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue's D.C. office, where she provides expert research services for the firm's overseas offices.

The Internet has made access to federal, state, and local government offices quicker and easier. Need Social Security information? Want to contact an elected official? Trying to get a copy of your birth certificate? Use the Web. But how do you know if an agency is on the Web? Can you access it without going through a general search engine? Is it possible to zero in on the particular information that you need without plowing through the many screens of a large government web site? There is an overwhelming amount of information by and about governments on the Internet. Subject searching is difficult precisely because there is so much. The following government-oriented metasites can help streamline the searching process.

Federal Gateway
http://www.fedgate.org/

Operated by the Small Business Contracts Council, a not-for-profit organization, Federal Gateway brings together in one site links to hundreds of individual federal, state, and local government web sites. They include links to legislatures, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, independent establishments, administrative agencies, and government-related search engines. In addition, Federal Gateway attempts to help you locate the site that has the information you need.

At the top of the home page are several red buttons. Welcome leads you to directions and disclaimers. The News button links to agency news sites and commercial news sources. Acronyms provides links to glossaries and acronym guides, a very useful feature for government searching. Search brings you to a search box that uses GPO's Federal Government Search Engine to search across "a number of federal departments and other groups." It does not search the entire Fedgate site. I was not very successful in using the search box. When I entered private letter ruling, I got a link to the State Department. Income tax did not link me to the IRS, but a search for form 1040 did bring up a link to the Treasury Department. In general the results I got from the search box were uneven. Clicking on Search also brings up links to other government search engines, such as THOMAS, and to individual agency search engines.

To search by government body, use the condensed list on the left side of the home page. To expand the list, click on a category, such as Congress. You will then see links for the various parts of Congress, and, on the right, a brief description of each site. One potentially useful category is "State and Local Government", which provides many links to state and local governments as well as to sites that contain information about states and municipalities.

Federal Gateway is a nice mix of links to official government web sites and to information that makes searching them easier.

FedBuzz.com
http://fedbuzz.com

FedBuzz.com is a privately-owned enterprise operated by a team of journalists, businessmen, government contractors, and Internet professionals. Its goal is to present a federal news and data site that is more than a navigational aid. FedBu zzproduces its own federally-oriented news reports ( a recent topic is on vaccine reactions); it also arranges federal data and web sites topically so you can find information without knowing which agency produced it.

To do so, see the list of subjects on the left side of the home page When I clicked on "Business & Workplace", I was taken to a list of agencies with descriptions and links to the sites. "Defense & Foreign Affairs" included articles on current topics plus links to various sites. "Federal Contracting" had a good explanation of the procurement process but few links. The left side of the home page also includes buttons for Legislative, Judiciary, and Executive Branch. To access federal agencies, click on Search U.S. Agencies and you will be taken to the Federal Web Locator [www.infoctr.edu/fwl], a service provided by the Center for Information Law and Policy that is intended to be a "one-stop shopping point" for federal government information on the Web.

Finally, there is a general search box labeled "Search FedBuzz.com". It is not clear exactly what is being searched and how far back the sources go and, like FedGate, search results are uneven. "Income tax" retrieved nothing. "Vaccines" retrieved many documents, but quite a few had nothing to do with vaccines as far as I could tell. The same thing happened with a search for "Los Alamos". Another problem is that the system does not give you a total number of hits; you have to page through an unknown number of screens to get to the end.

SearchGov.com
http://www.searchgov.com

With its sister site SearchMil.com, SearchGov.com presents a quick, no-frills way to link to federal, state, and government web sites. The home page is simply a list of government agencies and state names. There is not even any information on the site's producers. Do you want to connect to the Census Bureau? Click on Census. Are you looking for a specific New York City government office? Click on New York and then on Local Government. There's also a list of independent agencies.

A simple search box allows you to search across the site, but there is a good chance of retrieving too many hits. Even when I tried to be specific by searching for "Alabama legislature", I got more than 3700 hits. However, the link to the Alabama legislature, which is what I wanted, was high on the list. A search for "form 1040" resulted in 11,000 hits and one for "federal tax form" brought up 5100. This is a good place to go for very comprehensive searching.

SearchMil.com has only the search box on its home page; it searches over 1 million pages ranked in order of popularity. Searching here also produces many hits with links. For example a search for "defense acquisition circulars" produced 603 links, but the sites that were most relevant were listed first. A search for "Office of the Secretary of the Army" resulted in 9500 hits, but the link to the U.S. Army Homepage was third.

State and Local Government on the Net
http://www.piperinfo.com/state/index.cfm

Produced by Piper Resources, this is a frequently updated directory of links to government sponsored and controlled resources on the Internet, and it is well-organized and well-maintained. Web sites must meet several criteria to be included. For an explanation of the criteria for inclusion and exclusion of web sites, see the FAQ page. The home page lists states, multi-state sites (e.g., Multistate Tax Commission), national organizations (such as the Council of State Governments), and many other relevant links. To reach a local government web site, click on the state name and go to a detailed list of state/local entities.

A Quick Search box allows you to search across the entire site. There is also a more detailed search form with Boolean searching brought up by clicking on the Search button. The results are very relevant: a search of tourism produced 41 links to state tourism offices. However, you have to be careful in selecting search terms: the search form page informs us that entering "New York City" will probably produce little; use "City of New York" instead.

NASIRE: State Search
http://www.nasire.org/statesearch/

NASIRE represents chief information officers, information resource executives and information managers from the 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. StateSearch is designed to serve as a topical clearinghouse to state government information on the Internet. Therefore, the home page lists 32 broad categories that link to a total of 2256 sites. For example, click on "Legal Opinions" to get a list of links to states' legal opinion resources. To find state legislatures, click on "Legislatures", then on the individual state. StateSearch is easy to use and would be a good way to search across states.

Library of Congress: State and Local Governments
http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/state/

This LC meta-site presents links to other meta-sites for state and local government information; these include links to StateSearch, the Council of Governments, National Center for State Courts, and more. There is also a button for State Government Information, which brings up a list of states and links to official government sites as well as sites that have information about the states.