Browsing the U.S. Government Manual

What with invisible ink, yetis, and earthquakes, the world of Government publications can be so diverse and intriguing that it’s easy to lose track of sober perennials like the U.S. Government Manual. I’ve used this great book throughout my career in the Federal Government to get contact information for the right part of a large Federal agency or verify that a smaller, more obscure one actually existed – and what it really did. Thanks to the diligent folks at the National Archives and Records Administration’s  Office of the Federal Register, you can ferret out phone numbers, mailing addresses and URLs that really work, or just read through each agency entry to better understand its particular missions and activities. It’s perhaps the premier annual reference book for all three branches of Government.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Government Book Talk if I didn’t come at my subject from a slightly skewed angle. My favorite section to browse isn’t the main listing of agencies, the quasi-official agencies, or even the international organizations – it’s the History of Organizational Changes. For scholars or other researchers, this section is valuable because it allows them to trace the institutional evolution of a Government function or track down the ultimate fate of a defunct bureau or commission. For me (although I’ve used it for these worthy purposes), it’s mainly a way to arouse bemused curiosity about how Federal entities were christened in years past. Did you know that we once had a Bureau of Efficiency (1916-1933)? Did it fade away because we got too efficient? Doubtful, I’m afraid. What about the Office of Facts and Figures (1941-1942)? I know we haven’t run out of them…

Some innocuous agency names conceal more interesting activities. There couldn’t be a blander, more bureaucratic sounding name than The Office of  the Coordinator of Information (1942). It quickly changed to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which, under the charismatic leader of William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, conducted U.S.espionage and sabotage activities for the European Theater of Operations in World War II and was the progenitor of today’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Then there was the Virgin Islands Company (1934-1966), a New Deal Government corporation established to grow and refine sugar cane and manufacture and sell rum in that beautiful U.S. possession. It marketed rum under the name “Government House.” The label (left) featured a sailing ship, a palm tree, and a harbor, and supposedly was designed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. How else could I find out about this stuff if not through the pages of the U.S. Government Manual?

If you need a source of the latest information about any Government agency, or if you’re just curious about the innumerable nooks and crannies of the Federal establishment, the U.S. Government Manual is for you. You can browse it here, get a print copy of the 2011 edition here, or find it in a library.

17 Responses to Browsing the U.S. Government Manual

  1. […] years ago, Government Book Talk featured the Government Manual with the post “Browsing the Government Manual”. Here, we will take another look at this ultimate resource on the U.S. […]


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  3. Arvilla says:

    Hey there, You’ve done a great job. I will certainly digg it and for my part recommend it to my friends. I’m confident they’ll benefit from this web site.


  4. Samantha says:

    Can you offer any other resources to learn more about Government House Rum?


  5. Smovies85 says:

    Thanks for the post,


  6. Seerp says:

    thank you very much for this.


  7. Workers’ Compensation says:

    Germany was the first country to instate workers’ compensation laws, providing wage reimbursement to all workers with job related injuries for up to 13 weeks. Reduced payments could be continued if the injury resulted in permanent disability. The German compensation law was established in 1884 and was closely followed by similar laws in other European countries.

    What Is Workers’ Compensation in the US?


  8. steve moule says:

    Thank you very much for these facts. This is quite useful indeed. It will be beneficial to take note of this with regard to long term changes.


  9. Wendell E. Pope says:

    The link to browse the 2011 Manual is not working. Can you fix it?


  10. Carla Casler says:

    A few weeks ago, you had an item about the U.S. Botanic Garden — I deleted the message, assuming I could easily find it on your blog, but I can’t! Are entries archived? You post a lot interesting items, but most may not be relevant to me at the time of the post.


  11. Denise Ethun says:

    Many years ago (1970’s) I used to shelve government docs at Rockford Public Library. Many were dry and boring but I always found the Government Manual very useful and we kept it at the Reference Desk to answer many patron questions.


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