The "Agency Approach"

To Locating Government Information on the Internet
a tutorial created by:
Chuck Malone, Government Information Librarian
Western Illinois University Library

This tutorial is sponsored by the Continuing Education Fund Working Group of the Education Committee of the American Library Association's Government Documents Round Table.


Contents of the Tutorial

  • Need to Find Government Information on the Internet? Try the Agency Approach!
  • How Do I Know Which Agency?
  • Once I Have Identified a Government Agency -- How Do I Find Their Internet Address?
  • How Do I "Mine" an Agency's Web Pages Once I Get There?
  • How Does This Agency Approach Work With Real Questions?

    Some Sample Reference Questions.

    1. How do I find out about sex discrimination laws and how to file a sexual harassment complaint against my employer?

    2. I need statistics on honey production for each state in the U.S.

    3. I want to know the number of lives air bags have saved.

    4. Is secondhand smoke really dangerous?


    5. What about laws? Our federal laws are government information. I bet this agency approach won't help me find the laws I need!

  • Help Is Available -- At Your Local Depository Library!
  • Some Additonal Great Sites to Help You Find Government Information
  • A Word About "SuDocs" Numbers.
  • A Word About State Government Information.
  • Comments? and Thank You!
  • Home Pages of Sponsors and Supporters of This Tutorial
  • And finally ... Agency Home Pages To Practice With.



    Need to Find Government Information on the Internet?

    Try the Agency Approach!

    A library patron once told me that she used an Internet search engine to search the Internet for information on filing a sex discrimination complaint against her employer because of ongoing harassment -- and the search engine gave her 5,066 hits. After looking through the first dozen or so and not finding the information she was looking for, she became frustrated and quit.

    In contrast, many government document librarians would take a different approach to searching for this information. They would ask themselves, "Which government department, office, or agency would deal with a question such as sex discrimination?"

    Most government document librarians work at libraries that are part of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). The FDLP is administered by the United States Government Printing Office (GPO). Traditionally, as GPO prints publications and documents for the various federal agencies, they will print extra copies to be distributed to libraries participating in the FDLP. The FDLP libraries usually organize these government publications by the agencies that issued them. As a result, government document librarians have found that identifying the agency that deals with the information they are looking for is a good technique to use in locating government information.

    However, government information is increasingly becoming available on the Internet. One does not always have to go to a Federal Depository Library. In a sense, we can all now become government document librarians by using the Internet to find the government information we are looking for.


    But with the Internet so huge -- where do we start? Well, the same technique that government document librarians have used for organizing and finding government print material -- that is organizing information by the agency that issued that information -- also works in searching for government information on the Internet.



    Thus, the purpose of this tutorial is to demonstrate a Three-Step "Agency Approach" to finding government information on the Internet.

    1. Identify which government agency deals with the type of information you are looking for.

    2. Go to that agency's Web home page.

    3. Mine that agency's Web pages for information you are looking for.



    (Please note: Internet "hotlinks" in this guide are underlined in blue. But be prepared to do some extra investigating or "mining" as Internet sites do change over time)

    How Do I Know Which Agency?


    One can determine which agency to look to for specific government information through a variety of ways. The United States Government Manual is one publication that is readily available in print at most libraries. This source is also accessible on the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual/index.html




    The
    United States Government Manual briefly describes the roles of most federal government departments and agencies. Furthermore, it will usually give the Internet address of a Department or Agency's Web page.





    And if you think about it, you probably know the names of many government agencies and have an idea of what they do just from listening to the radio, watching TV, or reading the newspaper. The names of government agencies are present everywhere if we happen to notice them. Just spending a few extra moments a day to mentally note the names of government agencies mentioned in the news and elsewhere can pay big dividends when it comes to identifying which government agency does what.

    What's in a name?

    The names of many agencies describe what a particular agency does. For example, the Dept. of Agriculture deals with matters of agriculture; The Dept. of Transportation deals with matters of transportation, etc.

    Or you might want to try the Federal Web Navigator by Villanova University's Center for Information Law and Policy. This directory is organized by subjects, and then leads one to the appropriate agencies.



    Once I Have Identified a Government Agency -- How Do I Find Their Internet Address?


    Federal government agency Internet addresses will usually end in .gov (except for military sites -- which will end in .mil). Many federal government Internet sites also will contain the initials of an agency -- followed by .gov. For example, the address of the U.S. Dept. of Interior is http://www.doi.gov. The Internet address of the Federal Trade Commission is http://www.ftc.gov.

    There are a couple of good Internet directories of government agencies that can help you find the Web address of an agency. These are:

    Federal Agency Internet Sites by the Government Printing Office and LSU Libraries of Louisiana State University.
    The already mentioned Federal Web Navigator by Villanova University's Center for Information Law and Policy.

    You can also use these directories to browse agency home pages and find out what various agencies do. And finally, as mentioned earlier, The United States Government Manual also lists the Internet addresses of most federal government departments and agencies.


    How Do I "Mine" an Agency's Web Pages Once I Get There?

    This can involve:

  • examining relevant links as soon as you get to an agency's home page
  • Looking for links to statistics of that agency
  • doing a search within an agency's Web pages
  • searching for a sub-agency within the main agency that deals with your subject
  • looking for a link to publications of the agency.

    Details of mining some specific agency's sites will be given in the reference question examples below.

    How Does This Agency Approach Work With Real Questions?

    Examples of how the "Agency Approach" to finding government information on the Internet actually works are given below. These were taken from actual reference questions that were received at a library reference desk. The questions were then answered by figuring out which federal agency would deal with the subject matter of the question -- going to that agency's Web home page -- and then mining the agency's Web pages to find the information the patron was looking for.


    Some Sample Reference Questions!



    Question #1. How do I find out about sex discrimination laws and how to file a sexual harassment complaint against my employer?


    Step #1. Identify the Agency that would deal with the type of information you are looking for.


    The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws which prohibit various types of discrimination, including sex discrimination and sexual harassment. The EEOC also conducts investigations of alleged discrimination. How would one know this? A few years ago the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court appointment hearing / Anita Hill testimony brought the EEOC into national attention. Or you might have remembered various news stories about sex discrimination in the workplace that featured the role of the EEOC.





    Or if you were not familiar with the work of the EEOC from stories in the media, you might have noticed a poster around your workplace with EEOC information.







    Or you could have used the U.S. Government Manual to come up with the EEOC. From the subject/agency index in the back of the book, the subject heading "discrimination" sends one to the subject heading of "civil rights." And one of the page links after "civil rights" leads one to the entry of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.



    Or using the online version of the United States Government Manual you encounter a search box into which you could have typed in the word "discrimination" or "sex discrimination" and come up with the EEOC.


    Step #2. Go to that agency's Internet home page.

    In this case we CAN find the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's home page by trying an Internet address that contains EEOC followed by .gov. (http://www.eeoc.gov).

    You also could have obtained the EEOC's Web address from the U.S. Government Manual or the Federal Agency Internet Sites and Federal Web Navigator Internet directories that were mentioned above.

    Step #3. Mine that agency's Web pages for the information you are looking for.

    It is usually a good idea to look for links to the information you are looking for as soon as you get to an agency's home page. Notice that the EEOC's opening Web page contains links to Employment Discrimination and Filing a Charge. The "Employment Discrimination" link leads one to a further link of "Sexual Harassment" which contains a discussion of what defines sexual harassment. Links are also available to the text of the Civil Rights Act, the area of discrimination law that covers sexual harassment.



    Question #2. I need statistics on honey production for each state in the U.S.

    Step #1. Identify the Agency.

    Since honey is an agricultural product, we can start by assuming that the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) would keep statistics on honey production. Also, going to the online version of the United States Government Manual and typing in honey at the search line would lead you to USDA.

    Step #2. Go to that agency's Web site.

    In this case, the initials of the agency followed by .gov again will get us to the home page we want. http://www.usda.gov.

    Of course, we could have also gone to one of the Internet directories of government information mentioned above to find USDA's Internet address. And the entries for USDA in either the print or online versions of the United States Government Manual would lead you to USDA's Internet address.

    Step #3 Mine the agency's Web pages.

    With a large agency such as USDA, I like to continue with the Agency Approach a step further, and identify which agency within an agency deals with the question we are looking for.


    So in this case, at USDA's home page, I will choose Agencies & Offices in order to find a list of sub-agencies or offices of USDA.



    The Dept. of Agriculture deals with a multitude of subjects -- from managing our National Forests, to overseeing the Food Stamp Program, to operating commodity programs to help our nation's farmers. When going to the home page of a large department such as USDA for a statistical question such as honey production, it is usually worthwhile to see if they have a special office that deals with statistics.
    So what I am looking for is an agency or office within USDA that might deal with "statistics."

    After clicking on Agencies & Offices from USDA's home page, you will be taken to a listing of the agencies within USDA. One of those agencies is the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) By clicking on their name (may have to click on it again at an intermediate page) we can go to the NASS page.

    Once at the NASS page, we notice a link to Reports by Commodity. After clicking on that, then we can:

    1. Go to the link on the left that reads, "Browse NASS by subject."
    2. Then we can choose Livestock and Animals (I first tried "Crops and Plants" but didn't find honey listed)
    3. Then we can choose Specialty Livestock
    4. Then we can choose "Honey" and click on "Search"
    5. Next we are taken to a page with a number of links to reports, including a link to a page on honey production that will lead us to the statistics we need.
    6.In March 2007, the most recent honey production report, was from 2/28/2007, with the title, United States Honey Production Down 11 Percent.

    An alternative approach would have been to use the search boxes at the various USDA pages, or even better yet, the search box at the NASS pages.





    Question #3: I want to know the number of lives air bags have saved.

    Step #1. Identify the agency.

    For a "transportation" question such as this one might guess that the
    United States Department of Transportation would be a good agency to try for this type of information. Or by typing in "air bags" at the search line of the online United States Government Manual we could have also been led to the United States Department of Transportation.

    Step #2. Go to the agency's Internet home page.

    Again the Internet address to this agency consists of the initials of the agency followed by .gov (http://www.dot.gov) takes us to the agency we want -- United States Department of Transportation. Or we could have gone to the United States Government Manual to find the address.

    Step #3. Mine the agency's Web pages.

    Once at the United States Dept. of Transportation Internet site, we can again use our "agency" approach to look for agencies within DOT which might have statistics on air bags. On the left of their homepage we can click on DOT Agencies see what DOT subagencies might have statistics about air bags. In this case, by looking at the choice of agencies, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA would be a good choice for an office that would deal with a safety questions such as air bags. Once at the NHTSA home page, we can click on Research to see what we find. There, at the top of the left of the page is a link to Air Bags that has reports that may have the information we are looking for.

    Another approach would be that once at the NHTSA page, we could have typed "Air Bag Statistics" in the search box that searches the NHTSA site. By doing that search, our first hit is The Burueau of Transportation Statistics. Finding the Bureau of Transporation Statistics site is like finding another chuck of gold in an area of the mine that we weren't even expecting to find anything. By doing a search of Air Bags in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics search box at the top of their page, we are led to a whole new set of hits on air bags, including:

    Table 2-30: Estimated Number of Lives Saved by Occupant Protection, Motorcycle Helmets, and Drinking Age Law which has a nice table that includes statistics on the number of lives that DOT estimates airbags has saved. For this question, another approach would have been to choose the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration option from the About DOT page. We should be able to relate their name with air bags since they are often in the news concerning air bags and auto safety in general. Once at the NHTSA home page there is a listing of a menu of popular topics along the left side of the page -- one of which is "air bags." By clicking on air bags we are taken to another menu of all kinds of choices about air bags. One of the choices is Fact Sheets which has a sub-heading of Statistical Information that takes us to a fact sheet just like we found going the BTS/DOTBOT route. Additionally, there are other links from this "Air Bag" page that should be helpful.




    Question #4: Is second-hand smoke really dangerous?.



    Step #1. Identify the agency.

    As in our previous questions, our first step is to decide which agency would deal with health issues. Most of us would agree that the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services would be a logical choice.


    Step #2. Go to the agency's Internet home page.

    From the previous methods mentioned (trying the letters of the agency's initials -- or going to the United States Government Manualor one of the federal agency directories listed above, we would find that their Web address is http://www.dhhs.gov

    Step #3. Mine the agency's Web pages.

    1. Notice the Diseases and Conditions link along the upper left side. Click on that.

    2. Then click on: Alphabetical Listing along side the MedlinePlus entry.

    3. Click on S

    4. Scroll down to Secondhand Smoke and click on that. You will find a well of information from the National Institutes of Health and other legitimate health organizations.


    Additionally, one might have thought of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a place to go to look for information about secondhand smoke from an air quality approach. Again, the initials of the agency will lead us to the agency's Web site: http://www.epa.gov

    1. Then click on "Air" from the menu at the top.

    2. Then under Indoor Air Pollution at the bottom menus, click on Environmental Tabacco Smoke



    Question #5 What about laws? Our federal laws are government information. I bet this agency approach won't help me find the laws I need!

    Actually, the agency's Web pages are an excellent place to find federal laws and federal regulations. Regulations? Yes, many times when someone is looking for the laws on a topic, they may also need the regulations on a topic. And the agency Web pages are usually an excellent place to find both! Here's why:

    The laws that Congress pass and the president signs, usually authorize a federal agency to then write regulations to administer that law. For example, Congress and the President passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, but that law authorized the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division to write regulations that administer that law.

    These agency regulations appear in the Code of Federal Regulations. However, most agencies also have links on their Web pages to both the laws of the subject areas their agency works - and the regulations they have written to enforce those laws.

    An excellent example is this Department of Labor / Wage and Hour Division page on the Family and Medical Leave Act

    http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla/

    As you visit other agency home pages, look for a link to Laws and Regulations, Policies, Standards, or other similar language





    Help Is Available -- At Your Local Depository Library!


    This "Agency Approach" should help you find the government information you need. But should you encounter difficulties -- don't fear. Help is available at a Federal Depository Library near you. There are nearly 1200 Depository Libraries across the Country which will be glad to help you in your search for government information on the Internet. Depository libraries also have government publications in print, microfiche, and CD-ROM format in their collections.



    To find out more about Depository Libraries --
    or to find the name of a Depository Library near you, go to:
    http://www.gpoaccess.gov/libraries.html

    Some Additonal Great Sites to Help You Find Government Information



    GPO Access: a portal to a wealth of government information.
    Catalog of U.S. Government Publications. This online catalog has most all of the titles issued by the Government Printing Office to Federal Depository Libraries since 1976. Many of the more recent titles are available full-text, online.

    USA.gov The USAgov advanced search engine at: http://usasearch.gov/search?v%3aproject=firstgov-web&emptyquery=1&form=advanced-firstgov&v%3aframe=form& is great for looking up U.S. government information. Change the "Search In" drop-down menu to "Federal Only" to look up only federal government informaton. Or change the "Search In" drop-dowm menu to a particular state, this is a great search engine for searching that state's government information.

    The Library of Congress. Be sure to visit their American Memory pages of historic maps, photos, documents, audio and video. Also, be sure to visit their Thomas pages for current and historic legislative information.

    The U.S. House home page, http://www.house.gov/ and the U.S. Senate home page, http://www.senate.gov/

    A Word About "SuDocs" Numbers

    If you do visit a Federal Depository Library, chances are that you will not find their government information organized by the Dewey Decimal classification system -- or the Library of Congress classification system. Instead, you may encounter the "SuDocs" classification system. SuDocs is named from the Superintendent of Documents -- the person and office who heads the Federal Depository Library Program portion of GPO.

    The SuDocs system classifies government publications by the agencies (and offices within an agency) who issue a particular publication. A SuDocs number begins with one or two letters which stand for the issuing agency. For example, publications issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture begin with the letter "A" -- those issued by the Dept. of Defense begin with the letter "D" -- those issued from the Dept. of Interior begin with the letter "I" etc.

    After the letter(s), a SuDocs number will then contain arbitrary numbers which represent offices or sub-agencies within the main agency. For example, publications from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Forest Service will be classified and shelved with a stem that starts out A 13. Publications issued by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will begin with a stem of A 101. Publications issued by the Dept. of Interior's Geological Survey will begin with a stem of I 19. Publications issued by the Dept. of Interior's National Park Service will begin with a stem of I 29.

    As you can see, government documents librarians have already had experience in using material organized by the federal agencies and sub-agencies who issue a particular piece of information. And as I hoped you have learned from this tutorial -- the "Agency" approach can also be a useful method in finding government information on the Internet.

    A Word About State Government Information



    This Agency Approach also works for finding State Government Information. Most states have a Web page listing their main state government agencies. For example, Illinois has such a page at: http://www.illinois.gov/government/agency.cfm. Again, figure out the appropriate agency, go to that agency's Web pages and mine those Web pages for the information you are looking for.

    To find a list of agencies for other states, try the WIU Libraries' State Information page.

    Comments? and Thank you!


    Along with the Continuing Education Fund Working Group, of ALA GODORT's Education Committee, I would like to thank you for taking the time to go through this tutorial.

    I hope that you have benefited from this demonstration of the Agency Approach to locating government information on the Internet. If you have any comments or questions about this tutorial -- or this approach to finding government information, please contact me at:
    C-Malone@wiu.edu



    Home Pages of Sponsors and Supporters of This Tutorial

    (ALA) American Library Association

    ALA Government Documents Round Table (GODORT)

    ALA GODORT Education Committee

    Continuing Education Fund Working Group of ALA GODORT's Education Committee

    Western Illinois University

    Western Illinois University Libraries

    Western Illinois University Libraries' Government and Legal Information Unit




    And Finally ... Some Agency Home Pages to Practice With

    So that you can browse some federal agency home pages, I have placed links to a few federal agencies below. Browsing through the various agencies will give you a good idea of the types of government information that are available on the Internet.

    Federal Agencies

      Links to official Internet sites of federal departments and agencies:


      Departments

      Popular Federal Agencies
      Independent & Quasi-Official Agencies



    (This site last updated 3/2007)