Access to Government Information

Governments, local, state and federal, are horders of useful information, tons of it, rooms full of it, computers overflowing with it.  There's census data, real estate records, court records, product data and lots more.  If you want an idea of how much and what types of government information you might want take a look at Informaiton USA published by Matthew Lesko,

A large percentage of that information is yours for the asking, if you know who and how to ask. All states and the federal government have open records laws that create a presumption that "public records" of government agencies are open to you unless they fall within enumerated exemptions.  Court records are presumptively public under the First Amendment, common law or court rules, and may be withheld only under limited circumstances.

When you are seeking information the first task is to determine where it might be found.  If more than one agency may have it ask all that are likely candidates. If you determine that a particular federal agency is the likely source you may have to ask its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and its regional office where the data may have been gathered.  A federal agency is not required to search files in all its field offices to comply with an information request.

Make a verbal request first. You'll often get what you want without a hassle.  If you get no response or the agency tells you to file a Freedom of Information Act request do so. The law requires you to make your request in writing and gives the agency 20 days to respond. Don't be impatient. Agencies rarely make the deadlines.