The Government Domain: RSS and Uncle Sam

Peggy Garvin of Garvin Information Consulting is author of The United States Government Internet Manual (Bernan Press) and contributing author for The Congressional Deskbook, 2005-2007 ( TheCapitol.Net ).



RSS is at that awkward stage and the federal government – like the American citizenry – is approaching it slowly.

A July 2005 memo 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.

Further Reading on RSS

Rich Site Services: Web Feeds for Extended Information and Library Services
by Gerry McKiernan

Three-part series by Chris Sherman:

What is RSS and Why Should You Care?

RSS Search Engines

Choosing an RSS Reader

Federal Feeds

Here are selected federal government offices with RSS feeds that may be useful to LLRX 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 Bureau
Census offers over forty RSS feeds, including subject-specific feeds such as Economic Surveys, Poverty, Race, and Housing.

Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
CMS has feeds for Medicare news and site updates. The agency website, however, uses email-only lists for a wider range of topics.

Consumer Product 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 news feeds:
Current Legislation
NewsNet newsletter
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 news articles.

Energy Department, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
EERE’s weekly newsletter is offered as an RSS feed.

Environmental 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.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
See the News box and blue RSS graphic on home page for the EEOC news release feed.

Federal 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.

National Institutes 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 NLM Tech Bulletin 344 for more information.

The White House
Presidential News and Speeches, White House Press Briefings, and the Weekly Radio Address (in English and Spanish) are available as RSS feeds.

Finding 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 engines.

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 .gov address.

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.)

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Posted in: Government Resources, RSS Newsfeeds, The Government Domain