Under the Radar Legal Resources: Government Manuals

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One of the more difficult parts of legal research can be navigating the complicated structure of the government, especially if you are doing research involving administrative agencies. 

Government manuals are underutilized resources that provide nuts-and-bolts details like organizational charts, staffing information, department histories, and more. They can save you a lot of time by compiling helpful information all in one resource, rather than having to track it down across multiple different sites. They can also help administrative law novices more quickly understand the structure of the government.

The federal government has a manual, as do many individual states, so they can be helpful no matter what jurisdiction you’re researching in.

The United States Government Manual

Let’s take a look at the United States Government Manual, available for free online. Back issues of the manual are available on GovInfo.gov.

This Manual is helpful for understanding the structure of the Federal Government and learning more about its various agencies and departments. For example, it provides an excellent organizational chart of all three branches. Unlike many similar charts, it includes every department of the Federal Government, including lesser known (but important!) ones like the Congressional Budgeting Office in the legislative branch, or Office of Management and Budget in the executive branch.

 It also has a list of commonly used agency acronyms and an index of agency organizational changes that may be particularly useful for historical research.

The Manual is a great source for finding the statutory origins of specific departments and agencies. For each department listed in the manual, it gives a brief overview of its history and which law established it. This includes independent agencies like the CIA, government corporations like the Tennessee Valley Authority, and international organizations that the U.S. is a part of, like the Asian Development Bank and United Nations.

Overall, the United States Government Manual is a great place to start whenever you are dealing with an unfamiliar piece of the Federal Government or need facts and staffing information about a specific department.

State Manuals

Many states publish their own Government Manuals. Like all state legal research resources, they vary in quality and availability based on the state. For example, North Carolina discontinued its manual in 2011 due to budget cuts. However, back issues of the manual are still available online, and can still provide a good overview of the North Carolina government.

An example of a helpful (and still operating) manual is the The Maryland Manual On-Line. It includes helpful sections like “Maryland at a Glance.” It also includes lists of all Maryland departments, agencies, universities, counties, and municipalities, compiled in one helpful place rather than spread across different resources.

If you are doing legal research in a specific state, especially an unfamiliar or new one, taking a look at the state manual can be a great way of catching up with how the state operates and finding useful resources to refer back to in future research.


Posted by Andrew J. Wisniewsky on Tue. November 1, 2022 10:00 AM
Categories: Uncategorized


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