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Government Documents - U.S.

This guide was designed to help locate U.S. Government Documents, either in the American University Library collections or free online.

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Sarah Gilchrist
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Major Finding Aids

Official source
Recent bills
Search engine for US government and military web sites
Spanish language search engine for US government and military web sites

Historical documents

Catalog of U.S. Govt. Publications
Pre-1994 publications

Documents of the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government

 The legislative branch of government has the authority to make laws for the nation. It was established in Article I of the Constitution with the creation of Congress. Congress is made up of two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Agencies that provide support services for the Congress, such as the Government Printing Office, Library of Congress, Congressional Budget Office, and the General Accounting Office are also part of the legislative branch.

 Years of Congress - The calendar years of each session of the U.S. Congress.

Public Laws  
Statutes at Large  
U.S. Code House & Senate Journals
U.S. Constitution House & Senate Reports
Congressional Record  

U.S. Constitution

Congressional Bills & Bills Tracking
There are two types of bills-public and private. A public bill is one that affects the public generally. A bill that affects a specified individual or a private entity rather than the population at large is called a private bill. A typical private bill is used for relief in matters such as immigration and naturalization and claims against the United States.

Public Laws
The Public Laws of the U.S. are Acts of Congress

  • 93rd (1973) through current Congress. The text of Public Laws is available from the 104th Congress (1995) to the present; the text of Enrolled (final) versions of legislation is available from the 101st Congress (1989) to the present.
    Tracks biils.
  • HeinOnline (AU Community only)
  • ProQuest Congressional (AU Community only) 1988 to h. Updated within two weeks after a law is passed (most available within 24 to 48 hours).

Statutes at Large
The United States Statutes at Large is the permanent collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress. The Statutes at Large is prepared and published by the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Every public and private law passed by Congress is published in the Statutes at Large, in order of the date it was enacted into law. The laws are arranged by Public Law number. More about Statutes at Large.


United States Code
The United States Code is the grouping by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is divided into 50 broad categories ("titles"), each with a name and number. For example, Title 20 covers education laws. The U.S. Code does not contain statutes known as private laws. The online version may be months behind current legislation, but it is the most up to date official version.
Warning from the Government Printing Office: "While every effort has been made to ensure that the U.S. Code database on FDsys is accurate, those using it for legal research should verify their results against the printed version of the U.S. Code...." More about the U.S. Code from: Office of the Law Revision Counsel.
Issued: First published in 1926. Since 1934, the United States Code has been published every six years. In between editions, annual cumulative supplements are published in order to present the most current information.
Citation: 22 USC § 1501 would be Title 22, Section 1501

Public Laws to U.S. Code Conversion

  • U.S. Code Classification Tables
    Shows where recently enacted laws (from the last two sessions of Congress) will appear in the U.S. Code and which sections of the Code have been amended by those laws.
  • Table III of U.S. Code
    Find the corresponding U.S. Code using the Public Law number.

United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) and United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.)
The U.S.C.A and U.S.C.S. are two private publications which include the statutes as well as useful summaries of relevant court decisions. These annotated versions contain notes following each section of the law, which summarize relevant court decisions, law review articles, and other authorities, and may also include uncodified provisions that are part of the Public Laws. The publishers of these versions frequently issue supplements that contain newly-enacted laws, which may not yet have appeared in an official published version of the Code.

United States Code Service (U.S.C.S) from LexisNexis

  • NexisUni (AU Community only) Upated monthly.

United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) from WestLaw
The American University Library does not subscribe to the U.S.C.A. To access the U.S.C.A., go to the Washington College of Law's Pence Law Library.

Congressional Record
The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is a nonpartisan, substantially verbatim account of all Congressional debates. Members of Congress may edit or add remarks before it is printed. The Congressional Record is published daily when Congress is in session. At the end of each session of Congress, all of the daily editions are collected, re-paginated, and re-indexed into a permanent, bound edition, commonly referred to as the Bound Congressional Record.

The Congressional Record is the fourth and final series of publications containing the debates of Congress. More about the Congressional Record from the FDsys, LexisNexis (pdf), THOMAS, and U.S. Senate.

Annals of the Congress of the United States (1789 to 1824, 1st Congress to 18th Congress, 1st session)
Formally known as The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States.

Register of Debates in Congress (1825 to 1837, 18th Congress, 2nd session to 25th Congress, 1st session)

Congressional Globe (1833 to 1873, 23rd to 42nd Congresses)

 Congressional Record (Daily) (1873-present)
The Congressional Record is published daily when Congress is in session.

 Congressional Record (Bound) (1873-present)
At the end of each session of Congress, all of the daily editions are collected, re-paginated, and re-indexed into a permanent, bound edition, commonly referred to as the Bound Congressional Record. The primary ways in which the Bound Congressional Record differs from the daily edition are continuous pagination; somewhat edited, revised, and rearranged text; and the dropping of the prefixes H, S, E and D before page numbers.

House and Senate Journals
The Journal should be seen as the minutes of floor action. It notes the matters considered by the House and the votes and other actions taken. It does not record the actual debates, which can be consulted through the "Link to date-related documents" in the full text transcription of the Journal. Motions, reports filed, executive communications, votes, and other basic legislative actions of the House and Senate are summarized in the Journals. The Journals do not include the actual floor debates, speeches, or extended remarks.

Committee Reports
Each measure sent to the full chamber by the committee with reporting responsibility is accompanied by a committee report on the legislation. The committee's report summarizes the purpose and scope of a bill, reasons for its approval sets forth the committee's findings and recommendations, including a statement estimating the costs (or revenues) resulting from its potential enactment for the current fiscal year and five successive fiscal years. All changes in existing law must be indicated in the report, and the text of laws being repealed must be indicated. Occasionally, committee reports are not linked to a certain bill or piece of legislation but rather serve as background on a public policy issue. These reports are generated by committee staff in their oversight role.

Congressional Hearings
Published hearings are the official record of committee hearings proceedings. Hearings, which are usually open to the public, are held to enable committees to gather opinions and information to help Members make decisions regarding proposed legislation or to help them fulfill their oversight and investigation responsibilities.

Most hearings are published from two months to two years after the hearing is held, but some are never published. The timing of the publication, as well as the decision on whether or not to publish, depends solely on the individual committees. Transcripts of hearings that are not published are deposited at the National Archives. Senate unpublished hearings can be released after 20 years and House unpublished hearings can be released after 30 years, but all hearings can be held 50 years or more for national security or privacy reasons.

American State Papers


Congressional Serial Set

  • ProQuest Congressional (AU Community only) 1789 to 1969


Roll Call Votes
A roll call vote guarantees that every Member's vote is recorded, but only a minority of bills receive a roll call vote. More about Congressional voting from: U.S. Senate.

  • THOMAS House1989 (101st Congress) to present; Senate 1989 (101st Congress) to present