Goodbye FDsys, Hello Govinfo

fdsys v govinfo

That’s right, at some future undetermined date, probably late 2018 ,[1] everyone’s favorite government information website will be shut down and replaced by a new, modern (ish) version. This will be only the third GPO electronic information website in the last 25 years. In June 1994, the Government Printing Office (GPO) launched GPO Access. This was replaced by FDsys (Federal Digital System) in January 2009.  Now, almost ten years later, it’s time for the GPO, who has subsequently changed its name to the Government Publishing Office, to transition once again to Govinfo.


What is staying the same?

Content.  In the end, Govinfo will have the same exact content as FDsys.  The Federal Register, US Code, Congressional Record, and all other government information will be available with the same exact coverage as FDsys.

What is going to be different?

Interface.  The GPO has developed a completely new way to navigate the information formerly available on FDsys.  Govinfo was released in a beta version in early 2016, and taken out of beta in late January 2018.  This should mean that the site is fully developed and ready to go.  If everything stays the same, the initial landing page features a big search bar with some large buttons below.  The new site is mobile responsive and will work with smartphones, tablets, or however else you want to read your favorite title of the CFR.  The site also features modern looking search results pages with easy to navigate filtering options.

Is this a good thing?

Probably.  FDsys was rather dated, and it was easy to get stuck in a long series of sub-menus and pages.  That being said, when I used FDsys I usually navigated things from the upper right publication menu, which was conveniently located and easy to find.  FDsys was probably still workable in its final form, but it was ugly and aesthetics seem to mean more and more when we select information sources.

The thing I like best about Govinfo is the “A to Z” menu on the landing page.  As I said before, when I’m in FDsys I browse by publication, The “A to Z” menu makes it easy to find whatever you need.  If you’re feeling particularly wild, or have a few free minutes on a Friday afternoon, try browsing to the C.F.R.  List of Sections Affected.  It’s there, and it’s finally easy to find.

The search is better than I thought it would be.  The algorithm handles legal citations well.  I tried to put in some lazy citations like I would in Westlaw or Lexis, omitting punctuation, section symbols, and sub sections, and it reliably found the right section.[2]  It also has an effective advanced searching feature, which allows you to search by citation, collection, government branch, sudoc number, and more.  As I said above, I particularly like the new filtering options.  Searching is definitely where Govinfo feels the most improved relative to FDsys.

This isn’t to say that Govinfo doesn’t have its own difficulties.  It’s not really intuitive to use for first time users – what is an “A to Z” anyway? You also cannot search for certain publications.  I tried type in federal register to see if it would auto populate like some other databases, and it would not.  The search by citation feature is also somewhat clunky, and doesn’t handle sub sections well.  Using my example from above, 24 C.F.R. § 9.103, I couldn’t get the system to search for “103” and had to just search for 9.  It wasn’t a huge deal, but it took me a minute to make it work.

Overall, I’m happy with the upgrade.  The aesthetics were just so bad on FDsys, and I think people were hesitant to try navigating the system.  With the new modern upgrade, the GPO website looks and functions similarly to a modern information website.  Even with some of it’s difficulties, Govinfo is a big upgrade from FDsys.  A for effort GPO.


[2] I performed the searches “24 cfr 9,” “24”c.f.r” 9,” and “24 cfr 9.1.”  All three searches produced the same results listing the C.F.R sections in order 9.101, 9.102, 9.103 etc.

One thought on “Goodbye FDsys, Hello Govinfo

  1. Pingback: Monthly Links Round Up – May | Western Pennsylvania Law Library Association

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