Democrat, Republican, or Independent, whatever your political affiliation, the best way to engage in politics is to be informed.
Twenty years ago, finding government documents or historical records required a trip to Washington D.C. Now, that information is as close as your computer screen.
Technology has made the government more transparent, but led to a different problem – information overload. A simple Internet search for "U.S. Constitution" will result in sixteen million hits. Given the volume of material online, it is difficult to know where to start.
When in doubt, go to the source and search government websites. Here are some of the best.
Anyone interested in existing laws and pending legislation should visit the Library of Congress' THOMAS website first. This site provides an overview of the legislative process, a history of the US Supreme Court, Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution. It is an indispensable resource for understanding U.S. history and the mechanics of government.
The National Archives is another fun investigative tool. This site has historical documents, information about wars, U.S. foreign policy, and everything in between. Interested in genealogy? The National Archives helps build your family tree, with links to census, military, and immigration records.
The public can also visit the National Archives at thirty-three locations nationwide. Each repository has its own collection of priceless artifacts available for viewing. In the virtual or real world, the National Archive is a treasure.
The U.S House of Representatives and U.S. Senate both have manageable websites that contain a wealth of information. The Senate's site is user-friendly, with a virtual "Reference Desk" that takes readers from century old treaties to the history of women in the Senate. It also has a "How To" section that helps you find the Federal Register, or visit the congressional galleries, among other things.
The Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) website is essential reading for those worried about the federal budget and U.S. economy. The office was created to provide unbiased fiscal information to members of Congress. Thanks to the Internet, that information is now available to you. Visitors to the website may access current budget reviews and analysis, reports on the long-term economic outlook, trends in unemployment, and economic stimulus plans.
There is one final federal website worth a visit, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). During its history, the GPO has printed millions of federal documents. This website gives the public access to many of these papers including, Special Commission Reports (for example, the 9-11 Commission Report) and transcripts of Congressional Hearings.
The GPO is also responsible for maintaining the Congressional Record. According to the website, the Congressional Record has been in existence since 1873, and is the official written record of congressional proceedings and debates. In the Record you can find famous floor speeches and boisterous arguments on controversial issues. It is a fascinating inside look at the U.S. Congress.
The Internet provides endless opportunity to learn about U.S. history and the political process. These sites are worth a visit.