Books on Uncle Sam's Shelf

by Thursday Bram on 14 July 2008 5 comments

I get free books in the mail every year. I don't have to review them, pay postage or do anything else with them. Uncle Sam sends them to me because I ask for them. These publications aren't exactly the sorts of books you snuggle down with for a quiet afternoon, but they are extremely useful.

My personal favorite is the Consumer Action Handbook, which you can order at ConsumerAction.gov . It has scores of tips for consumers, from very general advice on avoiding scams to very particular tips on choosing life insurance. But that advice is only about half the book. The other half is basically a telephone book: it's full of contact information for consumer assistance organizations. I'm not just talking about the phone number for your local better business bureau, either. It has the full contact information for Toyota Motor Sales' Customer Assistance Center, FedEx Kinko's Customer Relations department and Whirlpool Corporation's Corporate Headquarters. If I need to ask a question or file a complaint for pretty much any major corporation in the U.S., the federal government has already given me the address.

But through the Federal Citizen Information Center , I can order a slew of other publications. Some have small charges, but most are available for free as long as you are comfortable with a PDF rather than a print copy. The FCIC brings together publications from a variety of federal agencies and makes them easily accessible to citizens. You can even sign up for email alerts and newsletters on certain topics.

Are you a teacher? The FCIC has posters, lesson plans and more .

Are you worried about your cholesterol? The FCIC has a fact sheet on how to control high cholesterol, inclduing diet tips.

Are you trying to get the most out of your tires? The FCIC has a brochure on how to maintain your tires

While not every piece of information distributed by the government is perfect, most of what is available through the FCIC are basic reference materials. Much of the information in these publications is available elsewhere, but usually for a fee. The Investing Basics kit available on the FCIC website, for instance, is similar to books available for as much as $30. Who wants to pay that much for something they can get for free?

Technically, I suppose these publications aren't precisely free — at least for U.S. taxpayers. The funding to develop each of these publications comes directly from the federal government's budget, which is in turn funded by taxpayers. Just one more reason to take advantage of Uncle Sam's 'free' publications: you may have already paid for them.

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Kelja

Anything the gov does with its inherent inefficiencies has to cost the taxpayer 2 to 3 times what the private sector can do the same thing for.

Most of the 'free' booklets & pamphlets put out by the government are woefully out-of-date, poorly written and filled with inaccuracies. Besides, superior information on the same subjects exists at your local library or on the internet via simple searches using Google.

I just wish we didn't have a government that had to be all things to all people.

(sigh)

Julie Rains's picture

I think government resources are great -- their designs are not (usually) exciting but the content is excellent: relevant, useful, and written in a language that is neither intimidating or patronizing.

Thursday Bram's picture

Kelja, I'm afraid I have to disagree with you — while a lot of government publications have an element of bias, as a rule they're fairly up to date. I've yet to find an address in the Consumer Action Handbook that is out of date, for example.

Guest's picture
Kelja

Perhaps, some publications are better than others. But, why should the taxpayer foot the bill for information that is readily available on the internet or the library?

Thursday Bram's picture

The thing is that the source of a lot of that information on the internet or in the library is from government sources in the first place. I'm not necessarily keen on the idea that the government is acting as a publisher, but if that's already the case, there's no reason to not take advantage of it.