Government information can be evaluated by the same criteria used for other types of information. These are some commonly used criteria:
authority - if there is a personal author are credentials provided? Does the topic seem within the purview of the authoring agency? Does the document include a statement about why it is published?
reliability - is the information dependable? Are the conclusions well-supported?
accuracy - is the document free from error? Do any watchdog organizations dispute the agency's stand or findings?
balance/objectivity/bias - is there perspective or a sense of impartiality? Are diverse sources cited? Does a hearing draw on testimony from a variety of experts? (Remember, sources with a clear perspective are valuable - you know where the perspective is coming from and can provide context for it as you discuss it in your paper.)
timeliness - has the document been published in a timely manner related to content, data, or events?
Keep in mind that government information comes in many different forms and is used for many different purposes. An example: information included in the testimony of someone participating in a congressional hearing can be very different from government agency-generated scientific research or statistics. It's important to understand the context surrounding the publication, and ask yourself questions such as: does the authoring agency/committee/etc. have a particular agenda or mandate? Who is the intended audience for this information? etc.
There are many watchdog agencies, such as those below, that the government has set up to monitor itself. Do you know of others?
Another way to form an opinion on government reliability is to see what is being written and reported by government watchdog groups. Many organizations have been formed out of the desire of citizens to keep an eye on government policy, spending, and integrity.
Do these example watchdog organizations have their own bias? Find out about them before you trust them!