Friday, October 4, 2013

Filling in the Government Gaps

Four days into a federal government shutdown, with no apparent end in sight, citizens are taking stock of the many services and resources which have been affected by the funding lapse. The news media has focused on the most highly-visible impact: thousands of federal workers furloughed or working without pay, hundreds of national parks and memorials shuttered from tourism, and the fate of the animals – and beloved webcams – at our National Zoo.

But the less-obvious impact of the prolonged shutdown is becoming more apparent, as researchers attempt to access the many free federal online resources which have gone dark due to lack of staff and funding. Researchers have long been able to rely on the U.S. Government Printing Office and federal agencies for free copies of federal publications, but access during the shutdown has been unpredictable. Many websites went offline on October 1, displaying only a notice about the lack of funding. Even websites which have remained online (albeit without updates) experience frequent server outages due to lack of maintenance.

We are fortunate at Duke University to have alternative access to many of the most popular federal research materials, both in electronic and print formats. Here is a quick guide to some of the best starting places to access needed federal publications while the government websites are offline.

Agency Publications

Federal executive branch agencies responded to the shutdown differently, depending upon the "essential" nature of their publications and services. The Federal Register, our daily record of executive branch rules, proposed rules and notices, is being updated only with items "that are directly related to the performance of governmental functions necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life or protection of property," and only via the Government Printing Office's FDsys site., a user-friendly version of FR materials dating back to 1994, remains available for historical research purposes but is not currently being updated with the FDsys materials.

Agency decisions, reports and other publications may still be available on some agency websites. However, if you need material from an executive agency which is not currently online (such as the Federal Trade Commission), current Duke University students, faculty and staff may be able to locate an alternate version through HeinOnline's U.S. Federal Agency Documents, Decisions and Appeals library. This library includes PDF scans of decisions and other materials from a variety of federal executive agencies. Titles can be browsed in HeinOnline or searched in the Duke Libraries Catalog, where print versions of these publications will also appear if they are available at Duke. Check out our research guide to Federal Administrative Law for other access options to executive materials.

Congressional Publications

The Library of Congress continues to maintain its primary sites for free federal legislative information, and its predecessor THOMAS. Other Library of Congress sites (including and the historical audio recordings at National Jukebox) are back online as of October 3, but not being updated. Congressional documents, reports and hearings back to the mid-1990s are also available via FDsys.

If the federal sites experience outages during the shutdown, Duke University also has access to congressional publications through ProQuest Congressional and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set Digital Collection. Our research guide to Federal Legislative History lists other access options for congressional materials.

Education-related Materials, the online clearinghouse for education-related reports and journal articles, is another popular research site affected by the shutdown. Duke University subscribes to a commercial version of ERIC, which includes the full text of many ERIC documents and journal articles. But even readers without a current Duke NetID and password can now access ERIC resources for free during the shutdown, courtesy of EBSCO, by visiting

Statistical Data

Federal websites contain a wealth of statistical reports and other data, but sadly sites like have shuttered. At Duke, a good starting point for government statistical reports and datasets is ProQuest Statistical Insight. Other alternative sources for data are listed in the University Libraries' Recommended Databases for Data and Statistics.

For Further Assistance

To locate other types of federal material which are not listed here, or for help navigating these databases, be sure to Ask a Librarian.