Ask Uncle Sam: Government Information and Government Publications

Short of that which has been classified, government publications and government information are available on almost any topic you could imagine.

| January/February 1989

Knowledge is of two kinds: We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. — Samuel Johnson

Maybe it’s because so many of us associate hearing from the government with the dreaded arrival of income tax forms. Whatever the reason, the most underused source of useful information in this country, other perhaps than libraries, is surely Uncle Sam. The United States government is far and away the nation's largest publisher and most prolific disseminator of facts. What's more, most of the information provided under federal auspices is bargain priced: free, in many cases, and comparatively lowcost in most others.

Here are a few of our favorite sources of government publications and government information.

For Energy, Try CAREIRS

Despite its acronym, CAREIRS has nothing whatever to do with jobs or job training or career counseling. Its full name describes the agency's function better: Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service. At the flick of a toll-free phone number, you can get first rate information on, and answers to questions about, virtually any aspect of alternative energy or energy conservation. And if the CAREIRS people can't help you on the spot, or if your question is of a particularly complex or technical nature, they'll refer you to experts or organizations —private, federal, state or local — who can give you the information you need.

In most cases, though, CAREIRS will at least be able to send you a detailed fact sheet or brochure on the topic in which you're interested, whether it be home insulation or weatherization, tuning up your furnace, or the practical application of renewable energy: solar, photovoltaic, wind, bioconversion, wood heating, small-scale hydroelectricity, geothermal, and alcohol fuels. CAREIRS' fact sheets are free and do a fine job of explaining the basics; most also include an extensive bibliography for further reading on the subject, along with a list of relevant groups and associations.

Recent examples of CAREIRS fact sheets: "Landscaping for Energy Efficient Homes" (FS 220) describes design fundamentals, shows how to establish windbreaks that block winter winds and funnel summer breezes, and provides sample plans for homes in the four major climatic regions: cool, temperate, hot/humid and hot/arid. "Earth-Sheltered Houses" (FS 120) covers costs, site and soil analysis, options in design and construction materials, and even potential problems (such as getting financing and complying with local building codes).

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