Government Documents = paper trail from all 3 branches of government; technically, every piece of paper the departments and agencies produce is a government document.
The Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) decides what the Government Printing Office (GPO) will publish and disseminate through the Federal Depository System, which determines your access to it (i.e., availability online, via books here at Milne, or via IDS.)
Most current documents are disseminated online, and GPO is digitizing old documents, albeit at a slow rate.
The most useful research tools for finding government documents are:
Using Library databases to search for government documents:
You can search for g.p.o OR "government printing office" in a single box within a database, and then change the keyword option to "Publisher"
You can search for government in a single box within a database, and then change the keyword option to "Material type"
Some Congressional subcommittees hold hearings where experts and citizens give testimony in support of, or in opposition to, a proposed law. If the topic is of wide interest, then the government printing office will publish those hearings. Worldcat can be used to identify and request the hearings, usually with titles such as Hearings Before the Subcommittee on …….. It is therefore important for you to know the name of the congressional subcommittee that is considering a bill before you look for hearings in library databases. Hearings may also be available in Hein Online
Tracking State Environmental Legislation
Every state has a State Library, most of which have a web page with some information about getting state documents. Investigating a State Library’s web page can be challenging. Look for links that say Legislative Histories, or look for links to “Documents” or “Archives.” At the very least, you should be able to find a phone number to call and ask someone for help finding exactly what you are looking for.