Historically, GPOAccess, which was the Government Printing Office’s online resource, was the federal government’s resource for government documents and records, such as the United States Code and the Federal Register. Anyone who used this antiquated site, however, knew that it was less than user friendly and updated infrequently. Fortunately, GPOAccess is shutting down March 16 and will be replaced by a new site that is already up and running: GPO’s Federal Digital System, or FDsys. Unlike GPOAccess, FDsys is extremely user friendly and constantly updated, almost daily for some resources.
FDsys serves three main functions:
1) It is a content management system for all federal government documents and records
2) It is a preservation repository used to store these records and documents
3) It is an advanced search engine that allows users to access these records by browsing or searching for a specific resource
What is more, FDsys allows users to access metadata associated with these records and documents as well as access these records in multiple renditions and various formats, such as .PDF and Text formats. Finally, FDsys is completely free and does not require users to register.
Here are some notable highlights that illustrate how comprehensive and useful FDsys can be when your research project requires you to access federal records and documents:
1) The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation: This resource provides the 1992 and 2002 editions of the Constitution as well as supplements for the most years since 1992. These allow users to track any changes made to the Constitution as well as provide analysis of recent Supreme Court decisions affecting various parts of the Constitution. The documents are available in .PDF format. This resource is invaluable for anyone who is researching constitutional analysis.
2) The Federal Register: The Federal Register is the federal government’s daily publication that lists the most routine news and notices disseminated by the government. Through FDsys, users can browse the actions of and issues addressed by various government committees. All of the information is categorized by date and area of government.
3) In addition to analysis and up-to-date notices, FDsys also provides resources that have special historical value to the United States. For example, users are able to download Air Force One’s flight deck conversations that were recorded shortly after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
Most importantly, perhaps, FDsys allows users to access the official United States Code from 1994 up to 2010. Having access to and being able to cite the official Code, rather than U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. is oftentimes necessary when submitting briefs and other court documents in federal court. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use FDsys to browse the US Code. For this example, we will take a look at 18 U.S.C. § 1341, which is the criminal statute for mail fraud.
Step 1: From FDsys’ home screen, click on “United States Code,” which is located on the right side of the screen under “Featured Collections.”
Step 2: Use the drop down menu to select which year you would like to access and then click “Go.”
Step 3: Scroll down to the relevant chapter that you are looking for. Notice that once you have accessed the Code, you can either drill down even further into your relevant chapter or you can immediately access the entire chapter by clicking on the .PDF or Text links to the right of the screen.
Step 4: Continue to drill down into the Code until you have located the specific section you are searching for. Notice that as you do this, FDsys indicates what sub-parts make up the sections that are listed. For example, from this menu you know that Part 1 of Chapter 18 consists of sections 1-2725. You also know that Chapter 1 of Part 1 consists of sections 1-24. This allows users to browse in a far more efficient way when they have a general idea of what sections they are looking for but do not know the exact one or in what Part or Chapter the exact section is located.
Step 5: When you have finally found the section or sections that you are searching for, click on the .PDF or Text links to the right of the section to retrieve the document. Clicking on the “More” tab provides relevant data about the statute itself as well as access to metadata .
Finally, the documents retrieved here are from the actual US Code, so they may be cited to. Additionally, some judges like to have relevant Code sections included in the appendix of a brief or court filing. FDsys allows you to quickly and easily print out the actual sections without having to make low-quality copies from a book. In sum, FDsys is a user-friendly resource that provides a plethora of federal government produced records or documents.