The Government Domain: RSS and Uncle Sam
By Peggy Garvin, Published on September 18, 2005
Peggy Garvin of Garvin Information Consulting is author of
The United States Government Internet Manual (Bernan Press) and
contributing author for
The Congressional Deskbook,
RSS is at that
awkward stage and the federal government - like the American citizenry - is
approaching it slowly.
A July 2005
from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 65% of the Americans
surveyed were not really sure what the phrase "RSS feeds" means. An additional 26%
had never heard of it.
At the federal level, executive branch agencies have taken a relative lead in
implementing RSS. Feeds from the judiciary are few and far between. In Congress,
some individual members have feeds for their press releases, but offerings from
committees are scarce. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide email alert services, but no RSS. The
Government Printing Office (GPO) recently announced its first
two feeds. Look for more
from GPO in the future.
selected federal government offices with RSS feeds that may be useful to
readers. The URLs on this list are for the web pages that link to and describe
the feed or feeds available, not for the individual feeds themselves:
Census offers over forty RSS feeds, including subject-specific feeds such as
Economic Surveys, Poverty, Race, and Housing.
Center for Medicare &
Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare.gov
CMS has feeds for Medicare news and Medicare.gov site updates. The agency
website, however, uses
email-only lists for a wider
range of topics.
Safety Commission (CPSC)
CPSC has a feed for product recalls and safety news. Look for the orange
XML graphic in the left-side column.
Copyright Office offers these three RSS
Federal Register Notices
Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
CBP has feeds for press releases and for news featured on their home page.
Eight other CBP feeds are low-volume, subject-specific "spotlights," such as
Legal Spotlight, Export Spotlight, and Travel Spotlight.
Defense Department (DoD)
Separate feeds are available for news releases, press advisories, contract
announcements, transcripts, speeches, and Armed Forces Information Service
Energy Department, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
EERE’s weekly newsletter is offered as an RSS feed.
Protection Agency (EPA)
In addition to one feed for all EPA headquarters news releases, the agency has
eleven separate feeds for topics such as grants, hazardous waste, air, water,
Superfund and brownfields, and compliance and enforcement.
Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
See the News box and blue RSS
graphic on home page for the EEOC news release feed.
Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
"The most important news, decisions, and events" are reported in the What’s
New feed, which appears on the home page and on this RSS Help page.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA feeds are: Recalls; What's New at Center for Food Safety and Applied
Nutrition; What's New at Center for Devices and Radiological Health; Medical
Device Information for Consumers; Recently Approved Medical Devices; and FDA
Patient Safety News.
of Health (NIH)
Grants and Contracts Announcements
NIH Press Releases
These two feeds from NIH are of the traditional news variety. NIH's National
Library of Medicine has gone beyond news, giving
PubMed database users the tools to set up
RSS feeds of new citations found by saved searches. See
Bulletin 344 for more information.
Presidential News and Speeches, White House Press Briefings, and the Weekly
Radio Address (in English and Spanish) are available as RSS feeds.
How do you discover whether Uncle Sam has an RSS feed for your needs? If your
subject interest is narrow, the easiest thing to do is search on the website
of the relevant agencies. The search term “RSS” is unique and unambiguous
enough to work well even in the notoriously unhelpful agency site search
FirstGov has a subject guide to federal
government RSS feeds called the
U.S. Government RSS Library. It links to many more feeds than I have
listed above, but still may not be completely current or comprehensive.
The major search engines are just now developing tools for searching RSS
feeds. In a recent
posting to her ResearchBuzz blog, Tara Calishain talks about a new
MSN Search feature for RSS, and she
provides examples for using it to find government feeds. I have not had any
luck with the "feed:" syntax that she and her
source discuss, but the "hasfeed:" syntax does work well for turning up
new feeds. (Note: September 20, 2005
Update from ResearchBuzz, on MSN's Feed Syntax)
For example, give this a try in
MSN Search - hasfeed:
Limiting to the .gov domain in big search engines
is not perfect, of course. Your searches will also find state or local
government feeds and will not find federal government feeds that do not use a
A cautionary note: I have observed that people who use RSS feeds for current
awareness begin to want all of their news available in that format. If you are
a consumer of government news, you will have to be patient. Agencies that
offer one or two RSS feeds may still have ten or twenty email lists that are
not available in RSS. But you may not be out of luck. Where an agency does not
provide a feed for valuable information, a company or organization may have
stepped in to fill the gap. As an example, see the Patent and Trademark Office
feeds available at Rethink(ip). (The
USPTO RSS Feeds box is in the left-hand column.)