GPO's Web site muscles up on links to federal documents

I.F. Stone, the legendary Washington, D.C., journalist who believed it was better to read government documents than to interview people, would love the Government Printing Office's site on the World Wide Web. That's because the GPO site (www.gpo.gov) is a point of entry to an increasing mass of raw material online from the government, ranging from the Constitution to the Congressional Record.

In a Web environment overrun by sites that are the equivalent of a Hollywood movie set, where style takes precedence over substance, the GPO site stands out as an unassuming, information-rich offering.

Instead of fooling around with sound, video and graphics toys, the GPO site put its muscle behind powerful links to federal documents, which are found easily through the GPO Access page (www.access.gpo.gov).

This page, which is delightfully Java-free, makes it easy for the average Joe to sift through the raw material of government by offering searchable versions of such documents as the Federal Register, the United States Government Manual, the Code of Federal Regulations and Public Laws as well as links to National Archives and Records Administration information (www.access.gpo.gov/nara/index.html).

GPO Access also serves as the launch pad to sort through some 4,500 documents offered on the federal bulletin board (fedbbs.access.gpo.gov). Click on the White House button on this page, and you hop to another screen that allows you to choose between documents provided online by the Office of Management and Budget and a Flood Plain Management report from the Council on Environmental Quality.

If you are not too concerned about floods, tap into the OMB section and discover all-time favorite circulars such as OMB Management Circular A-130, which is available for downloading. No one inside the Beltway will have an excuse anymore for professing ignorance of OMB circulars.

If you can't find what you are looking for in individual files, GPO Access offers a powerful search tool— the Government Information Locator Service (www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/gils/gils.html)— to search for key words appearing in a variety of documents.

GPO Access also offers a weekly compilation of current presidential documents online, complete with a search mechanism that allows searching by topics, such as computers and telecommunications. A search covering the past month on those two topics brought back, among other things, the text of a speech by President Clinton at Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, Md., on wiring schools to the Internet. GPO, a creature of Congress, offers an online version of the congressional directory, complete with a downloadable file of pictures of all 435 members of Congress and 100 senators— a handy tool for lobbyists who are trying to work the crowd at a party.

It is hard to completely detail the wealth of material on GPO Access in a single column, but after repeated visits to the site, it's apparent that GPO has succeeded in truly opening up the raw records of the government that would delight not only I.F. Stone, but Benjamin Franklin, the first public printer.

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