Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is a data gathering, data research and data distribution organization
associated with Syracuse University.
The purpose of TRAC is to provide the American people -- and
institutions of oversight such as Congress, news organizations, public interest groups, businesses, scholars and lawyers --
with comprehensive information about federal staffing, spending, and the enforcement activities of the federal government.
On a day-to-day basis, what are the agencies and prosecutors actually doing? Who are their employees and what are they paid?
What do agency actions indicate about the priorities and practices of government? How do the activities of an agency or prosecutor
in one community compare with those in a neighboring one or the nation as a whole? How have these activities changed over
time? How does the record of one administration compare with the next? When the head of an agency or a district administrator
changed, were there observable differences in actual enforcement priorities? When a new law was enacted or amended, what impact
did it have on agency activities?
TRAC was established in 1989 as a research center at Syracuse
University. It has offices there, and in Washington, D.C. It has been supported by Syracuse University, foundations such as
the Rockefeller Family Fund, the New York Times Company Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Beldon
Fund and the Open Society Institute, research grants and contracts, and fees which help offset the costs of providing services
to academics, reporters, attorneys and others subscribing to TRACFED, or those requesting specialized research and data set
TRAC's Use of FOIA
TRAC's core purpose is to make information about the federal
government's enforcement and regulatory effort more accessible to the public. An essential step in this process is TRAC's
systematic and informed use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The basic principle of FOIA is very simple: The records
of the federal government should be generally public. All you need to do is ask. But because of the sheer number of records,
the vast complexity in how information is recorded and stored, and the uneasiness many agencies feel about the public examining
their day-to-day performance, the actual process of obtaining federal records is far from simple. In fact, the systematic
collection of such information usually is a difficult and time-consuming task. So difficult, in fact, that many news organizations,
public interest groups, scholars and others do not bother to exercise their rights under FOIA.
Because comprehensive and relevant records about what an agency is doing -- and not doing -- are essential to meaningful
oversight, TRAC continuously uses the law to obtain new data about government enforcement and regulatory activities. Some
agencies are remarkably open. Other agencies are not. In some circumstances TRAC has to file suit in federal court to force
the release of vital data. An example of these efforts is TRAC's current suit against the Justice Department.
TRAC's Analyses of Data
Once TRAC obtains the data through its FOIA efforts,
the information is analyzed. With the use of a variety of sophisticated statistical techniques, the raw information obtained
from the agencies is checked and verified. Where possible, data from one agency is compared with another for general consistency.
Through the addition of relevant population figures and staffing counts, the enforcement data is placed in an understandable
context -- such as the per capita number of prosecutions. County-level data obtained by TRAC on significant local community
features can provide useful background about specific federal enforcement activities. For example, in connection with FBI
robbery investigations in a particular district, the number of branch banks operating in it would be relevant. In the same
way, information on the relative number of persons 65 and over living in an area could add perspective to a report on the
prosecution of fraudulent medical providers who often prey on the elderly.
The focus of these efforts is to develop as comprehensive and detailed as possible picture about what federal enforcement
and regulatory agencies actually do, to describe what resources (staffing and funds) they have to work with to accomplish
these tasks, and to organize all of this information to make it readily accessible to the public.
TRAC offers various information services:
- TRAC Public Web Site. Since 1996, TRAC has mounted and updated a series of specialized
sites on the World Wide Web with highly detailed but easy-to-access information on selected federal enforcement agencies,
special topical reports, and "snapshots" about federal expenditures, staffing and enforcement. The sites -- featuring colorful
maps and graphs and tens of thousands of pages of tables and other supporting material -- are available without charge to
anyone with access to the web. Currently featured are separate TRAC Web sites describing the enforcement activities and staffing
patterns of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Customs Service.
- TRACFED is TRAC’s dynamic subscription site. It provides a vast range of information
about federal enforcement activities -- criminal, civil, and administrative -- as well as detailed information about federal
staffing, federal funds, and the diverse characteristics of counties, federal districts, and states. Subscribers with the
click of a mouse can request specific statistics, detailed listings, maps or charts and have the information return immediately
to their browser. More advanced web-tools allow users to conduct tailor-made analyses of specific subsets ("data slices")
they want to examine in depth. A flash movie allows you to view without charge TRACFED features.
All federal criminal enforcement activities are covered -- under any law or Justice Department program category, by any
agency, and in any one of the 90 federal judicial districts or for the nation as a whole. The civil enforcement layers allows
analysis of civil litigation handled by the U.S. Attorneys where the government sues or is itself the subject of a suit. In
either case, broad statistical reviews as well as detailed information about individual cases or matters may be obtained.
The administrative enforcement layer, now featuring information about IRS audit and collection actions, focuses upon administrative
enforcement activities outside of court.
To place these enforcement activities -- criminal, civil, and administrative -- into a broader context, another layer provides
detailed information on federal civilian employees, where they work, what they do, and how much they are paid. Again, broad
statistical overviews including rankings and time trends are available, as well as detailed information on salary, post of
duty, and occupation down to the individually named federal employee. A further layer on federal funds provides comprehensive
information about where government funds are spent -- by program and agency -- for each state, federal district, and county.
Finally, the community context layer provides demographic and economic information about every county, state and federal judicial
- TRAC Training More and more, TRAC is training individuals and organizations who
want to improve their ability to use data to examine the actual policies of individual U.S. Attorneys, agencies, and administrations
or to explore how well or poorly a specific law is functioning. Our training does not focus on technical skills like down
loading data into spreadsheets or using software-specific commands. Rather, it is designed to give students a solid framework
for understanding how they can use enforcement data for constructive oversight. What information is available? How should
it be explored? So far, TRAC's training has been aimed at news organizations that want to improve the quality of their reporting.
Examples of the training have included one-day hands-on seminars for up to 10 reporters and editors working for news groups
like the Associated Press and more intensive three-day hands-on seminars for students from a variety of different organizations.
TRAC soon hopes to expand its training to other members of the oversight community such as public interest groups.
- TRAC Research. Congressional committees, government agencies, public interest groups,
news organizations, lawyers, scholars and others frequently hire TRAC to create specialized data packages or to conduct focused
data studies. Human Rights Watch, for example, needed data on how the government was enforcing the laws against brutal law
enforcement officials. Morality in Media wanted information about the federal prosecution of pornographers. One of the independent
counsels sought information on how long the Justice Department took to prosecute cases under a selected group of statutes.
News organizations like The New York Times, the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, the Wall
Street Journal, the Rolling Stone, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Globe and the St Louis
Post Dispatch all had data needs that TRAC could satisfy. Selected examples of how the news media, Congress, and public
interest groups have used TRAC data are available in the TRAC at Work section on this web site.
The co-directors of TRAC are Susan Long, a statistician and professor in Syracuse University's School of Management who
as a FOIA pioneer has specialized in federal enforcement issues for more than 25 years, and David Burnham, an investigative writer and former New York Times reporter, who has covered local, state and federal enforcement issues
since 1966. TRAC has offices in Syracuse, NY and Washington, D.C..