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Government Publications: United States

Guide to United States government publications.

Strategy 1: Identify a public law that addresses a social problem you are interested in.

This database provides access to Congressional publications and legislative histories; bills, laws, and regulations; member biographical and committee assignment information, as well as other related sources of information.

Search ProQuest Congressional for the Legislative History of a selected Public Law (PL) addressing your chosen social problem.

First, note any PLs between 1993 and a couple of years ago. PLs in this time range will most readily lend themselves to conducting research using electronic, as opposed to print, formats (although this is not always ideal – for example, hearings in print can be more complete than electronic copies) and will not be so new as to make it difficult to find any assessment of the law and resulting program.

Next, look at the following sections of the entry for a PL:

(1) Is the SUMMARY brief? If not, the PL may include provisions for different programs and should be avoided if possible. Avoid any PL with the word Omnibus in its title.

(2) Are there any HEARINGS and REPORTS? If not, you will not have enough resources for your research and you should thus avoid the PL.

Depending on what you have found so far, you may be able to proceed with the originally selected PL. If not, select a different PL.

Strategy 2: Identify a program that addresses a social problem you are interested in.

This database describes federal programs, projects, services and activities which provide assistance or benefits to the public. 

Search the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) to identify one or more federal programs specifying a plan to address your chosen social problem. Select a program. In the section labeled Authorization, look for a reference to one or more PLs whose goals led to the creation or continuation of the program.

A. If found, note any between 1993 and a couple of years ago. PLs in this time range will most readily lend themselves to conducting research using electronic, as opposed to print, formats (although this is not always ideal – for example, hearings in print can be more complete than electronic copies) and will not be so new as to make it difficult to find any assessment of the law and resulting program.

B. If none of the PLs referred to fall within the recommended time range or there are none referred to at all, consider (1) selecting a different program resulting from your search of the CFDA, if there is more than one; (2) doing a different search; or (3) consider following up on a reference in the Authorization section to the U.S.C. (United States Code, aka Code), understanding the difference between the Code and a PL.

To follow up a reference to the Code, you will need to search the Code by the given title and section number (for example, 42USC710) using either GPO Access or Thomas. Once you have found the title and section, look at the list of one or more PLs referred to in the parenthetical entry after the main body of the section. Note any, following the same guidelines in A.

Once you have selected a program and associated PL, you may pursue Strategy 1.

Strategy 3: Use the CQ Researcher to find reports related to a social problem you are interested in.

This database provides in-depth reports on current and controversial issues with complete summaries, pro and con discussions of all sides of the issues, bibliographies, and more.

Search CQ Researcher for reports on your chosen social problem (but not necessarily on a specific PL or program). You could begin with this strategy in order to identify a PL addressing the social problem, but it is suggested that you complete Strategy 1 or both Strategy 2 and 1 first.

More Sources of Information

Search one or both of the following sources for related documents on your chosen social problem.

  • the website of the agency responsible for administering the selected program; refer to the program and/or associated PL; this may help you find agency regulations, but, if not, regulations may also be searched using ProQuest Congressional.
  • the Government Accountability Office