The U.S. Census Bureau measures state and local government activity through the Census of Governments and related surveys. The data produced from these efforts are standardized across states and are the only nationwide dataset that allows for comparability both across states and on a national basis. Even with this standardization, the activities of 50 different state political systems present unique challenges to those who collect and use these data. We will introduce the principles by which the Census Bureau classifies governments and their activities. Additionally, through specific case studies, we will illustrate the ways states differ in their operation and in how they conduct the business of public service. Through these illustrations, we will offer a perspective that enables data users to delve into the data with a more thorough and accurate understanding, allowing them to formulate analyses more accurately.