Beyond Google

Government Information & Public Records

Illustration by Jim Ludke
Illustration: Jim Ludtke
Anyone waiting in line at a government agency knows the sinking feeling of watching grains of sand drop through an hourglass. Don't replicate this experience by looking for up-to-date government information at the search megasites.

Government agencies: To locate the Web site of a particular agency, just type the name into a search engine. But what if you're unsure which agency you need? In that case, take a look at FirstGov.gov (see FIGURE 4

Figure 4: Make FirstGov.gov your first stop whenever you look for federal, state, or local government resources.
), the granddaddy of government sites. It will direct you to federal, state, and local agencies, or to information on government benefits, driver's license applications, employment opportunities, statistics, laws, and contact information for lawmakers. Alternatively, you could try google.com/unclesam or SearchGov.com, but FirstGov's organization and categories often work faster, especially if you know what you want but you don't know who's in charge of it.

Public records: Search Systems is the best resource I've come across for finding information in national and state records. Choose a state and get data on local banks in trouble, court cases, bankruptcy information, and professional licenses. The last feature is especially helpful when you want to check credentials. Access to most of the site's records is free, and its fee-based services are clearly marked.

Statistics: When you need government stats for a presentation or report, hit The White House Economic Statistics Briefing Room for economic numbers from federal agencies, such as current unemployment rates. Also pay a visit to the U.S. Census Bureau's American FactFinder. Need localized census data for your small-business plan or loan application? Consult the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns for county-level business demographics. Then, for the big picture, check out The Population Reference Bureau's AmeriStat to get social-science statistics compiled with the assistance of the University of Michigan's Social Science Data Analysis Network.

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