Government Document Analysis
This page describes several common, representative types of government documents. The first section gives examples of publications, which are documents disseminated by a government body for broad public use. Publications are distinguished from records, which are documents created or received by a government agency, but usually maintained in a single copy and not intended for broader distribution. All these examples illustrate the principle that government documents facilitate and reflect the processes of government bodies in pursuit of their missions.
These types of government publications (with the exception of the Comprehensive Plan) are all issued by the U.S. government. The first examples are Congressional publications, whose form and content are prescribed by rules adopted by the House and Senate. The others are produced by Executive branch agencies; their form and content are largely determined by the various statutory programs they serve. State and local governments also issue publications that may be similar in purpose and format to these.
- Congressional bills. Bills are legislative proposals from the House of Representatives or the Senate of the U.S. Congress. Digital versions may be found at the Library of Congress' Thomas website or at FDsys: Congressional Bills.
- Congressional committee hearings. Hearings are the transcripts of oral and written testimony given to Congressional committees in the course of meetings ("hearings") held to gather information for legislative, investigative, oversight, appropriations, or other purposes. They are kept in the UO Library's Document Center in paper, but you can also find digital versions from links in the library catalog records (see example), or at FDsys: Congressional Hearings.
- Congressional committee reports. House or Senate reports contain the recommendations and findings of committees following their consideration and "markup" of a bill. Reports document the committee's process, justify their recommendations to their colleagues, and are used as evidence of "legislative intent" in subsequent judicial interpretations. They are kept in paper in the Document Center, and may be found in digital versions at FDsys: Congressional Reports.
- Congressional Record. The Congressional Record is the daily publication of debates and actions on bills occurring on the floor of the full House and Senate. It is kept in paper in the Document Center, and may be found in digital versions at FDsys: Congressional Record.
- Public Laws. Public laws are enacted by Congress and signed by the President. They are numbered chronologically--first by Congress number, then by sequentially assigned law number: PL 112-5. Paper copies in the Document Center are in bound volumes called the Statutes-at-Large, and digital copies are at FDsys: Public and Private Laws.
- United States Code (USC). The U.S. Code is the topically arranged compilation of all public laws having general applicability, and which are in effect at the time of publication. Current and earlier versions are kept in the Document Center. An excellent free source for the current digital version is Cornell's Legal Information Institute.
- Regulations. Regulations (also known as "rules") are written and promulgated by Executive branch agencies under authority delegated by Congress, and have the force of law. Both proposed and final rules are disseminated in a daily publication called the Federal Register (FR), and eventually compiled in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Note that in the FR version the proposed and final rule is preceded by a sometimes lengthy explanatory "preamble". The FR and CFR may be found in the Document Center, or in digital form at FDsys: Federal Register and FDsys: Code of Federal Regulations. You can view recent rules or comment on proposed new rules at the Regulations.gov site.
- Treaties. Treaties are international agreements between two (bilateral) or more (multilateral) nations. Sources of treaty texts are several, and some important ones are linked from the U.S. Department of State's Texts of Treaties and Agreements page. Earlier treaties not found in digital form are kept in the Document Center.
- NEPA documents. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prescribes a planning process that U.S. government agencies must follow before implementing land use changes (such as timber cuts or road building). Under NEPA agencies such as the Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must consider the impact of such an action on the quality of the human environment before decisions are made and the action is taken. The documents produced in this process, known as Environmental Impact Statements (EIS's) or Environmental Assessments (EA's), play a central role in the decision-making. NEPA documents and decisions are made at the lowest appropriate administrative level (such as the national forest or BLM district), and are generally available at those agencies' websites: e.g., Willamette National Forest or Eugene BLM District (click on "More Documents" to browse, or "Advanced Search Page" to search). A flowchart of the NEPA process may be helpful for context.
- Comprehensive plans. Each city and county in Oregon must prepare a comprehensive plan, stating the goals and policies for its growth and development planning. The content and, to some extent, the structure of these documents is laid down by the State's Land Conservation & Development Commission, which has identified 19 statewide planning goals that each local jurisdiction must address to the commission's satisfaction. Any other planning documents such as transportation plans or development codes must be consistent with the comprehensive plan.
Government records include, but are not limited to: correspondence, email, agendas and minutes of meetings, internal reports and memoranda, returned survey forms or questionnaires, photographs, maps, audio/video files, computer files, datasets, financial records, personnel and payroll files, property and tax records, and regulatory or adjudicatory decisions. The following is a selected list of sites that will give an idea of the types of records that agencies create or receive.
- Warner Creek Fire records. Thousands of records were created in the NEPA decision-making process conducted by the Willamette National Forest, following the Warner Fire of October 1991. The UO Libraries acquired copies of these records and produced this detailed Guide.
- Record disposition schedule (US Fish & Wildlife Service). This schedule, typical of those from public lands or conservation agencies, prescribes which records must be maintained and which may be disposed of after they are no longer active.
- Digital National Security Archive. DNSA is a project by a non-governmental organization, the National Security Archive, to collect U.S. government records pertaining to important events in U.S. foreign relations. The Archive uses the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records from the Departments of State and Defense, the CIA, FBI, and National Security Council. (UO access only.)
- Electronic Reading Room (FBI). The "Vault" is the FBI's name for its electronic reading room, a web-accessible repository for some of the most asked-for records of their investigations. All federal agencies are required to maintain such reading rooms, but the FBI's is perhaps the largest.