Business: Government Documents

comp bookOver the past decade, the United States federal government has shifted from a paper-based to a digital system for information dissemination providing anywhere, anytime access to government information. The introduction of new online tools and websites is providing easier access to information from a wide variety of government agencies. Librarians will find many of these new information sources useful in addressing the needs of information seekers.

Government entities provide background information about the country. Information related to culture, economics, history, politics, social climate, risk factors, safety, and standard of living that apply to many different disciplines including business.

Government resources are useful in many social science areas. Explore the following government information sources and think about how they might be used to address library client questions.

Accounting and Taxation

Accounting and taxation information questions often require access to government documents. In many cases, the government website will provide all the information that's needed. However, librarians need to remember that they aren't tax experts.

It's important to use the official government website to answer questions. In other words, Google might point you to JoeBlowTaxInfo, but you'll get the most accurate information at the IRS. In most cases, a Google search will send you to the IRS anyway. However, be sure to double check that you're going to the most current page. Google is sometimes behind in updating the links.

The Internal Revenue Service is an important first-stop for many questions.

The Small Business Tax Center is useful for businesses.

Go to Taxation Links for lots of starting points.

Scenario Stumper
I'm a volunteer with a charitable organization. I drive cancer patients to and from the hospital for chemo treatments. I understand that this is tax deductable, but I need to know the current mileage rates.
Go directly to the IRS website and locate this frequently asked question.
The Bottom Line... "Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the standard mileage rates are: 57.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, up from 56 cents in 2014, 23 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down from 23.5 cents in 2014 and 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations, steady from 2014."

try itTry It!
Got to the Internal Revenue Service. Browse their resources. What types of questions do you feel comfortable addressing? At what point do you need to recommend that a library user contact a tax professional or the IRS consultants.

Banking, Finance, and the Economy

Banking and finance have important ties to the federal government. Information from the following government agencies may be useful to those seeking business information.

Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve website provides information about monetary policy, banking, payment systems, economic data, consumer information, community development, and publications. Publications include the Federal Reserve Bulletin and the International Journal of Central Banking. They also house manuals such as Bank Holding Company Supervision Manual.

Scenario Stumper
What is the government doing to ensure that banks are ready for the next financial crisis?
The Federal Reserve website contains information about monetary policy and banking. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act requires that very large banks submit periodic plans that describe the company's stategy in case of financial problems in the company. These Resolution Plans can be found at the Federal Reserve website.
The Bottom Line: It's hoped that requiring banks to submit periodic plans will reduce the risk of bank failure.

Public libraries will find the Consumer Information section particularly useful.

School libraries will find the Federal Reserve Education website a useful source for educational materials including multimedia.

Department of Commerce

United States Department of Commerce "promotes the Nation's domestic and international trade, economic growth, and technological advancement by fostering a globally competitive free enterprise system, supporting fair trade practices, compiling social and economic statistics, protecting Earth's physical and oceanic resources, granting patents and registering trademarks, and providing assistance to small and minority-owned businesses" (US Gov't Manual).

Security and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission "protects investors, facilitates capital formation, and maintains efficient, fair, and orderly markets" (US Gov't Manual).

Other Agencies

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission "fosters open, competitive, and financially sound markets by protecting market users and the public from fraud, manipulation, abusive practices, and systemic risk related to derivatives subject to the Commodity Exchange Act" (US Govt Manual).

The Export-Import Bank "assists in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets" (US Govt Manual).

The Farm Credit Administration "ensures the safe and sound operation of the banks, associations, affiliated service organizations, and other entities of the Farm Credit System, and protects the interests of the public and those who borrow from Farm Credit institutions or invest in Farm Credit securities" (US Govt Manual).

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation "preserves and promotes public confidence in U.S. financial institutions by insuring bank and thrift deposits, periodically examining State-chartered banks, and liquidating assets of failed institutions" (US Govt Manual).

The Federal Housing and Finance Agency "ensures that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Bank System serve as a reliable source of liquidity and funding for housing finance and community investment. It provides research and data, supervision, and policies for strengthening and securing the United States secondary mortgage markets" (US Govt Manual).

The Federal Maritime Commission "regulates the waterborne foreign commerce of the United States. It ensures that U.S. oceanborne trades are open to all on fair and equitable terms and protects against concerted activities and unlawful practices" (US Gov't Manual).

The National Credit Union Administration "is responsible for chartering, insuring, supervising, and examining Federal credit unions and administering the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund" (US Govt Manual).

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation "promotes economic growth and job opportunities both at home and abroad by encouraging U.S. private investment in developing countries and emerging markets" (US Govt Manual).

Additional websites of interest include:

Scenario Stumper
I'd like to go to college, but I don't have much money. What are my options for financial aid?
Start at Federal Student Aid from the US Department of Education. The entry page provides questions to get users started and realistic information without advertising.
The Bottom Line... Skip Google and go right to the Federal Student Aid website to get started searching for financial information.

Economic Indicators

Many agencies publish information regarding economic indicators. Examples include:

Scenario Stumper
Prior to making some business decisions, I'd like to track the economic indicators for the past few months. Where can I find the official records?
Go to the Economic Indicators from the Council of Economic Advisors. This is published by the US Government Publishing Office.
The Bottom Line... lots of companies write about economic indicators, but the official reports are housed by the US government.

Business Law

The following government websites are useful in the area of business law:

Scenario Stumper
My son was in a horrible automobile accident. He has school loans coming due, mounting medical bills, and no job. He's considering bankruptcy, but I don't know anything about this option. I'm overwhelmed by all the websites and online advice.
A search of Google brings up lots of advertisements for bankruptcy attorneys and questionable advice. Begin with the United States Court: Bankruptcy Basics. There's even a short video.
The Bottom Line... it's important to know the laws and consider all the options before making a decision. Begin with unbiased background information.

From patents to trademarks, dealing with intellectual property has become an increasingly important aspect of business. Explore some of the following resources:

The PatFT website provides full-text database access to patents.

The US Trademark Law (PDF) provide a list of the rules of practice and federal statutes.

Consumer Information

The United States government is very concerned about consumer information.

The Consumer Action Handbook available is one of the government's most popular publications. This book provides help with consumer purchases, problems and complaints. Find consumer contacts at hundreds of companies and trade associations, local, state, and federal government agencies, national consumer organizations, and more. This handbook is available in both PDF and e-book reader formats contains information about consumer purchases, problems, and complaints. A particularly useful section helps users write a formal complaint letter. It's published every year, so it's important to get this year's edition.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "educates consumers to recognize predatory practices; enforces Federal consumer financial laws and supervises banks, credit unions, and other financial companies; and studies consumer financial markets, financial services providers, and consumers" (US Govt Manual).

The Consumer Complaint Database from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides a place where consumers can "share complaints about financial products and services to improve the financial marketplace". In addition to submitting data, users can also generate reports on topics such as bank accounts, credit cards, money transfers, and student loans.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission "protects the public by reducing the risk of injuries and deaths from consumer products" (US Govt Manual).

Popular websites include

Scenario Stumper
I'm having a baby in a few months and we're starting to buy furniture. I've heard horror stories about cribs and want to be sure I purchase one that's safe. Where can I go to find out about recent recalls and safety?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is the agency in charge of safety. They have a page specifically about picking and using a safe crib. The government maintains websites that contain information about recalls, safety, and complaints. The SaferProducts.gov website has a listing of the most recent recalls of cribs. You can also go to Recalls.gov.
The Bottom Line... look for recent recalls of cribs.

try itTry It!
Browse the The Consumer Action Handbook. This is the "go to" book for consumer information. Browse the book and think about potential users and their questions. List three questions and the pages where they can be addressed.

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Compare and contrast the information found at the following three consumer websites: Consumer.Gov, SaferProducts.gov, and SmartCheck.

Demographics and Business

In many cases businesses need demographic information to make business decisions. Much of the best information comes from the US Census. Good sources include the following websites:

Scenario Stumper
I'm considering expanding my business. I'm interested in information about a dozen small cities. I'm interested in which of these cities is anticipated to grow the most over the next few years.
The US Census Bureau maintains information about communities that would be useful for making these decisions.
The Bottom Line... there's no crystal ball, but you can do a community fact search for each city at American FactFinder. There's a 5 year population projection that should be useful.

Employment and Human Resources

Many business questions are relate to employees and job seekers.

The United States Department of Labor "promotes the welfare of job seekers, wage earners, and retirees by improving working conditions, advancing opportunities for profitable employment, protecting retirement and health care benefits, matching workers to employers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in economic indicators on a national scale." (US Gov't Manual)

Department of Labor Databases

Department of Labor Websites

try itTry It!
Libraries commonly assist individuals who are changing jobs and seeking job training. Go to CareerOneStop from US Department of Labor. Explore their resources for two different types of individuals such as a laid-off worker and a worker with disabilities. Compare the resources and advice provided for these two different people. How are the suggested resources alike and different? List the two individual types and your comparison.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics website contains lots of resources.

The US Equal Opportunity Commission website contains useful information related to employee rights.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority "oversees labor-management relations between the Federal Government and its employees" (US Gov't Manual).

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission "ensures the timely and fair resolution of cases involving the alleged exposure of American workers to unsafe or unhealthy working conditions" (US Gov't Manual).

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service "helps labor and management resolve disputes in collective bargaining contract negotiation, provides training to unions and management in cooperative processes, and provides alternative dispute resolution services and training to Government agencies" (US Govt Manual).

The National Labor Relations Board "prevents and remedies unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions. It safeguards employees' rights to organize and determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative" (US Govt Manual).

The National Mediation Board "facilitates labor-management relations within the railroads and the airlines" (US Govt Manual).

The Office of Government Ethics "directs executive branch policies related to preventing conflicts of interest on the part of Government employees and resolving those conflicts of interest that do occu." (US Govt Manual).

The Office of Personnel Management "administers a merit system to ensure compliance with personnel laws and regulations and assists agencies in recruiting, examining, and promoting people on the basis of their knowledge and skills, regardless of their race, religion, sex, political influence, or other nonmerit factors" (US Govt Manual).

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation "protects the retirement incomes of American workers in private-sector defined benefit pension plans" (US Govt Manual).

The Social Security Administration "manages the retirement, survivors, and disability insurance programs that are known as Social Security; it administers the Supplemental Security Income program for the aged, blind, and disabled; and it assigns Social Security numbers to U.S. citizens and maintains earnings records based on those numbers" (US Govt Manual).

International and Domestic Trade

Both domestic and international trade are an important part of the business.

Go to Export.Gov for information about U.S. company export.

Scenario Stumper
My company is doing well and I'm considering an expansion that involves exporting abroad. However, I'd like to learn more about how this will impact my small business and whether this approach is right for my business.
Go to Export.Gov. This website contains a questionnaire and advise for those considering business opportunities in other countries.
The Bottom Line... there are lots of books and other resources on this topic, but this website walks users through the process.

The Federal Trade Commission "protects America’s consumers and enforces laws that prohibit anti-competitive, deceptive, or unfair business practices" (US Govt Manual).

The Trade and Development Agency "advances economic development and U.S. commercial interest in developing and middle-income countries" (US Govt Manual).

The United States Agency for International Development "works to eradicate extreme global poverty and to enable resilient and democratic societies realize their potential" (US Govt Manual).

The United States International Trade Commission produces studies, reports, and recommendations on international trade and tariffs for the President, the U.S. Trade Representative, and congressional committees. It also conducts international trade relief investigations (US Govt Manual).

International organizations of interest include:


Explore the News, Journalism and Advertising area of the Library of Congress.

The Smithsonian maintains a Trade Literature Collection.

The Small Business Administration

Federal Trade Commission

Scenario Stumpers
A competitor is doing some advertising that I think might be illegal. How do I tell the difference between mean, unethical practices and illegal marketing? Specifically, he advertises that his products are "Made in the USA", but they aren't!
The Small Business Administration provides guidelines for advertising and market law.Federal Trade Commission also provided information about Advertising and Marketing.
The Bottom Line... The Complying with the Made in USA Standard provides information about FTC the U.S. origin requirements. It's very specific about what's legal and what's not.


Nonprofits make use of government resources including grants, loans, assistance, tax information, and more.

Go to the USA.gov for Nonprofits for lots of links.


Those that are self-employed make use of government resources related to financial assistance, hiring, law, scams and frauds, taxes, and other information.

Go to the USA.gov for the Self-Employed for lots of links.

Use the Business and Nonprofits section of USA.gov for more ideas.

Small Business

The Small Business Administration "aids, counsels, assists, and protects the interests of small business; ensures that small-business concerns receive a fair portion of Government purchases, contracts and subcontracts, and sales of Government property; makes loans to small-business concerns, State and local development companies, and the victims of natural disasters or of certain types of economic injury; and licenses, regulates, and makes loans to small-business investment companies" (US Govt Manual).

The Small Business Data Dashboard is a great place to start. Within this website, check out the following areas:

Use the Business and Nonprofits section of USA.gov for more ideas.

Website resources include:

Library of Congress

Scenario Stumpers
Are there government programs where I could get a loan for my small business?
The Small Business Administration provides many loan programs. Go the SBA Loan Program.
The Bottom Line: Yes! There are lots of loans available, however many are dependent on the particular business type and needs.

try itTry It!
Go to the Small Business Data Dashboard. Brainstorm the types of individuals that might make use of this website.

Business Classifications and Government Information

From farming to trucking, government information is useful across business classifications.


The following government resources are useful in agri-business activities.

Real Estate and Construction

Government resources are useful in real estate activities.


The Department of Transportation "establishes national transportation policy for highway planning and construction, motor carrier safety, urban mass transit, railroads, aviation, and the safety of waterways, ports, highways, and pipelines" (US Govt Manual).

Scenario Stumper
I work in the automotive industry. I understand that there's a report out from the Department of Transportation called the Blue Report or something like that. I don't have time to read a whole report. Is there an executive summary I can browse?
A draft of the whole nearly 300 page report Beyond Traffic 2045 report can be downloaded. There's also an infographic version of the report that's short, easy and fun to read. It's called The Blue Paper: Beyond Traffic 2045.
The Bottom Line... infographics are becoming increasingly popular alternatives to executive reports and they're fun to read!

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK) "provides intercity rail passenger service in the United States." (US Govt Manual)

The National Transportation Safety Board "investigates accidents, conducts studies, and makes recommendations to Government agencies, the transportation industry, and others on safety measures and practices." (US Govt Manual)

The United States Postal Service provides mail processing and delivery services to individuals and businesses within the United States. (US Govt Manual)

Utilities and Communications

The Federal Communications Commission "regulates interstate and foreign communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable." (US Govt Manual)

Doing Business with Government

Many people are seeking opportunities to work with the United States government.

Most government agencies have a web page that describes how to go about doing business with their organization. The Federal Business Opportunities website lists those agencies who are seeking connections with businesses.

The Small Business Administration has a page describing the process of becoming a government contractor.

The US General Services Administration describes the process of selling to the government.

The Government Printing Office provides a number of books and other products related to doing business with the government.

Examples include:

try itTry It!
Explore information about how to do business with a government agency. Come up with a list of general guidelines that would apply in most cases.


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