Bar News - February 19, 2014
Federal Government Information at Your Fingertips: FDsys.gov and Congress.gov
By: Rebecca Troy-Horton and Juliana Hayden
A wealth of government information can be found online, but for free and official federal government information, Federal Digital System (FDsys.gov) and Congress.gov are the go-to sources. Both provide federal legislative information, but FDsys also contains a growing collection of material from the other two branches of government.
Federal Websites: A Quick Look
• Committee Reports, Prints, Hearings
• Congressional Record
• US Code
• US Statutes at Large
• Code of Federal Regulations
• Federal Register
• US Court Opinions:
• US Court of Appeals
• US District Courts
• US Bankruptcy Courts
• Advanced search (by date, collection, fields, etc.)
Sample searches for US Court Opinions
• Committee Reports & Prints
• Congressional Record
• Hearings schedules
• Roll Call Votes
• Videos of House & Senate Floor Proceedings and House Committee Hearings
• Members of Congress search tool
• Coming soon: Nominations, Treaties, House & Senate Executive Communications
• Citation (bill, report, resolution, public law, etc.)
• Search within results
FDsys is a repository maintained by the US Government Printing Office that provides permanent public access to federal information. Its homepage features a simple search box to conduct a word/phrase search, or use the links next to it to conduct an “advanced search,” “retrieve by citation,” or access the “help” guide.
Using the example of “health care” as a search phrase retrieves many results, but FDsys provides ways to narrow your search. For example, to see recent bills, use the “Narrow Your Search” options on the left, select “2013” under “Date Published,” and select “Congressional Bills” under “Collection.” Results are sorted by relevance, but you can also sort by date.
The FDsys home page also features a “Browse” section on the far right, which provides links to popular collections/titles. Click “Browse All” to see the full list or scroll down to “Other Resources” for links to outside resources, such as PACER and the US Catalog of Government Publications.
FDsys also contains a growing collection of federal court opinions, many dating back to 2004, from nine appellate courts (First Circuit not yet included), 25 district courts (New Hampshire not yet included), and 36 bankruptcy courts (New Hampshire included). These opinions are searchable by court type, court name, title, case number, party name, and docket text.
Later this year, Congress.gov will completely replace THOMAS.gov as the official source for federal legislative information, to provide improved Internet capabilities. Both sites are maintained by the Library of Congress in collaboration with US Senate, US House and US Government Printing Office.
A word, phrase or citation can be typed into the search box. The search default is “Current Legislation,” but a different option may be selected. Refine your search using one of the facets on the left side of the results screen, such as, “Legislation Type,” or “Sponsor.” You can also perform searches using “and” or “or” fields and search within your results.
Although FDsys and Congress.gov both contain legislative materials, Congress.gov has enhanced them. For example, when you pull up a bill, a “Tracker” bar displays its status, and you can link to related bills and other information. While FDsys provides text, it does not have these additional features.
Congress.gov further distinguishes itself from FDsys by providing “In Session Live Videos” of House and Senate floor proceedings and House committee hearings, as well as contact information for members of Congress.
Be sure to click the “Search Tips” link next to the main search box for help constructing searches and to consult the “Coverage Dates for Legislative Information” chart, to see if the information you need has been added yet.
Regardless of their differences, FDsys and Congress.gov are user-friendly and provide free and reliable information.
Rebecca Troy-Horton is a reference librarian at the New Hampshire State Library, and Juliana Hayden is the librarian at the US District Court in Concord. This is the second in a series of articles submitted to Bar News by the New Hampshire Association of Law Librarians to provide law practitioners with practical information on legal research.