By Cynthia Hetherington
Thorough research is necessary in any type of investigation and requires knowledge of available sources and services to accurately answer the questions asked. Whether you are an investigative journalist, researcher, a special agent, or private investigator, it is necessary to implement a consistent methodology that allows you to approach your research in a systematic way, record your findings, and report your analysis.
In this 4-part series, Hg’s Cynthia Hetherington walks you through online and offline resources, how to collect and track information, the importance of understanding the market and industry, and how to use government agency resources. Last week, she discussed the importance of knowing the market and industry of your investigation. This week she provides an overview of how to use government agency resources.
Using Government Agency Resources
Researching government agencies is an important component of standard sources that are used in business investigations. Most investigators think of public records, such as court cases, business registrations or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, when they hear “government documents.” Often these types of government documents—or at least an index of the documents—are available on various government agency Websites for free or for a nominal cost. A one-stop free shopping site for an enormous collection U.S. sources is found at www.brbpub.com.
Other publicly available government publications that also can come in handy are industry reports, government studies and surveys, military reports, historical documents, and white papers. Every single industry, country, scientific or medical endeavor has some government documents written about it. Getting to these documents can be cumbersome. But much of the information is now available at various Websites. The perfect place to start searching for them is through the U.S. Government search engine.
If you are diligent, you will want to visit the government depository library Website www.gpoaccess.gov/libraries.html. Government depositories are excruciatingly complex information arsenals. Since the government produces more paper, media, and source material than standard publishers, it has created its own classification system called the Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc.) SuDoc numbers change with every new administration. Before the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, most agencies fell under the Department of Treasury, Department of Justice or other law-enforcement organizations. Classification for Dept. of Justice documents all began with the letter “f ” until the Dept. of Homeland Security was formed. Now, that same type of document is classified as “HS.”
Visiting a government depository can be a vital part of your research assignments. But avail yourself to the specialized government-documents librarian, who can help you navigate through the vast amount of source material and help find what you need. To find a library depository near you, visit www.gpoaccess.gov/libraries.html. The first visit should be in person in order to establish a relationship with this valuable research asset.
Vendors and Government Documents
On the opposite side of the coin, companies like LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Dialog are enterprises based on cataloging, indexing and making available government information that would not be accessible if it were not for their aggregation services. For the professional researcher, time is a very important budget item, so subscribing to these services can provide you with information quickly. For example, you can visit your local depository for a report on a Congressional hearing, but it is faster to search Dialog’s Website and download the same available document for a fee. A reminder, however, aggregators can be expensive.
The good news is that between the government, Internet, media, and other available sources, there are more than enough places to find research information.
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Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII is the founder and president of Hetherington Group, a consulting, publishing, and training firm that leads in due diligence, corporate intelligence, and cyber investigations by keeping pace with the latest security threats and assessments. She has authored three books on how to conduct investigations, is the publisher of the newsletter, Data2know: Internet and Online Intelligence, and annually trains thousands of investigators, security professionals, attorneys, accountants, auditors, military intelligence professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies on best practices in the public and private sectors.