Federal government Web sites have some of the most trustworthy information on the Net, followed by state and local governments. You will also find government Web sites in the public records, downloadable data and searchable databases page of the Net Tour. For help using government Web sites, check IRE Tip Sheet #948 (pdf) from Frank Kummer. For more techniques on investigating government and the myriad of institutions operated by all levels of government, refer to pages 109-308 in The Reporter's Handbook, 4th ed.
- NICAR Database Library - The National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a program of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, maintains a library of databases containing government data on a wide array of subjects. Data include airplane service difficulty reports, storm events, FBI crime data, fatal highway accidents, problems with medical devices and federal contracts awarded to private companies. This is just a short list of the more than 30 datasets in the collection. For some of the databases, you can purchase a single state slice or a single year. Others are a compilation of many years. All data come from federal government agencies. Price is determined by the market size of the purchasing news organization.
- TRAC - TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) is David Burnham's Web site at Syracuse University, which has U.S. Department of Justice, IRS and other data available for download. Consider it when you're working on stories about the IRS or the justice system in general. Also links to TRACfed for disseminating much of the data in custom slices.
- Federal Audit Clearinghouse - Search a comprehensive database of audits of all nonfederal entities that receive $300,000 or more of federal money each year. You can limit your search to entities that received qualified or adverse opinions.
- FedStats - This is the mega-stats site for the federal government, with index listings and links to the 70-odd federal agencies with statistical programs. Bookmark this one instead of the agency for up-to-date links.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics - Comprehensive site that includes courts and sentencing statistics, victim statistics, drug and crime facts, firearm facts, homicide trends and much more.
- Check Understanding Crime Statistics: A Reporter's Guide by Kurt Silver in the IRE Beat Book Series for more information and Web sites when covering crime and the justice system.
- i-deal prospectus - This site offers free access to recent bond offering statements. One of the most valuable documents for reporters trying to take apart a government entity is a bond offering statement, which sometimes is also referred to as a prospectus. These statements must provide a detailed overview of the financial condition of the municipality or government agency, and they often include interesting tidbits about lawsuits and other challenges facing the entity selling the bonds.
- Multistatements.com - This Thomson financial site gives access to an archive of bond offering statements, but at a cost of $25 each.
- GPO Access - Go directly to the Government Printing Office with full-text searching of documents ranging from GAO reports and the Congressional Record to the Joint Economic Committee's latest compendium of economic indicators and the Federal Register.
- Government Accountability Office - The best way to track filings by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The site is key word searchable and indexes reports back to 1995. All published reports, testimonies, correspondence, and special publications are included except those that are classified. To lean more about all the GAO investigates, go to www.gao.gov/.
- IGNet/Inspector General Directory - Links to the Web pages of the inspector generals of all federal agencies. Reporters can find useful materials here included investigations and audits of agency performance done by the Inspector Generals.
- National Legislative Program Evaluation Society - The National Legislative Program Evaluation Society has links to all the state level equivalents of the General Accounting Office. Like the GAO these agencies or legislative bodies produce dozens of reports and audits that may be of use to reporters.
- U.S. Senate Federal Lobbyists Disclosure Program - This site from the U.S. Senate's Office of Public Records allows reporters to search for and download lobbyist disclosure forms. The site can be searched by lobbyist, client, date and amount.
- Finding cities and counties - This link to the Chicago Web site uses the standard (but not universal) way to find a city: www.ci.xxxxx.ss.us. Replace the xxxxx with an abbreviated city name, like "chi" for Chicago, or "nyc" for New York City. Try it for counties by using www.co.xxxx.ss.us instead (replacing the "ci" in the city pattern with "co" for county). Again, it doesn't always work, but it's worth a shot.
- State home pages - This link leads to the State of Missouri's Web site and follows a convention that works for most state home pages: www.xx.gov, where "xx" is the two-character state abbreviation.