Beyond the FOIA: Finding Sources of Information Across the Government

June 27, 2012
Signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the FOIA provides the public a right of access to records that exist and can be located in the files of one hundred federal departments and agencies.  Contact information for each of these departments and agencies, and any of their component offices, is available on  Through you can also see frequently asked questions and answers about the FOIA, search across government websites for information already available to the public, and compare data from agency Annual FOIA Reports.  While the FOIA covers the Executive Branch of the federal government, it is important to remember that the law does not apply to the Legislative Branch (Congress) or the Judicial Branch (U.S. Courts), nor does it apply to state and local governments.  However, the entities and institutions that make up these other two branches of the federal government, and other levels of government around the country, provide a wealth of information to the public through means other than the FOIA.  The Library of Congress maintains THOMAS, an online legislative database covering records from the 101st Congress (1989-1991) to the present, as well as various records of the 93rd Congress (1973-1975) to the 100th (1987-1989).  The database provides information on current and past legislation, access to committee reports, and copies of the Congressional Record.  Additionally, members of Congress offer many services to their constituents or can be of assistance with various concerns if contacted directly.  Contact information for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate is available online as well. Additionally, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts operates the United States Courts website, which details how the federal judiciary operates at various levels, from the U.S. District Courts to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The website provides statistics from the federal judiciary, details of fees associated with the courts, copies of various court forms, and information on how to obtain court records. Furthermore, all state governments have enacted their own open records or public information laws.  While the scope of these laws can vary by jurisdiction, they offer similar rights of access to state and local records.  If you are interested in obtaining records from a state or local government, provides a comprehensive list of state and local government websites to help guide your request.  It is important to remember that in addition to the FOIA, there are multiple ways to access information from the various branches of the federal government, as well as from state and local entities.  Depending on the type of records you seek, the resources provided here will assist you in finding the right source for the information.

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Updated August 6, 2014