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5 Great Online Tools for Mining Public Records

Event Hightlights

Monday
Fourth Annual DOJ Sunshine Week Celebration; 10 a.m. at the U.S. Department of Justice

Tuesday
Anti-Terrorism Laws and Press Freedom; 6:30 p.m. at the National Press Club

Wednesday
The Lessons of Watergate
POGO's Danielle Brian will be speaking at this Common Cause event; all day at the National Press Club

POGO's Angela Canterbury will testify in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Thursday
The Future of Classification Reform; Noon at The Brennan Center for Justice

Friday
Freedom of Information Day; 8:15 a.m. at the Newseum
POGO's Danielle Brian will be on a panel at 9:15 a.m.

Click for Full Schedule

Thanks to our open records laws, you can find a treasure trove of information on the web—everything from details about publically traded companies to where stimulus funds are going. You can even submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests online.

Take some time this week to educate yourself about the information and data available from government websites. Below are five great online tools that you can use to help hold government accountable.

FOIA Online

FOIA Online allows anyone to submit a Freedom of Information Act request online, track their request, and search past FOIA requests. Currently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Commerce, Federal Labor Regulations Authority, Merit System Protections Board, and the National Archives and Records Administration use FOIA Online.

One of the great things about FOIA Online is that you do not have to be registered to submit or search FOIA requests. This makes it incredibly easy for anyone to begin research into what is going on in different agencies and departments of the U.S. government.

Recovery.gov

Recovery.gov was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the “Stimulus,” and is managed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. It shows the distribution of all Recovery funds and how each agency is spending the money. Agencies involved must submit weekly financial reports that describe how the funds allotted to them are being distributed, and those who received contracts, grants, and loan awards of Recovery funds must submit similar reports four times per year.

Recovery.gov not only allows the public to view, research, and review the information, but it offers the ability to report suspected fraud, waste or abuse that relates to the Stimulus.

The Consumer Complaint Database

The Consumer Complaint Database displays information from consumer credit card complaints that are reported to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The data allows people to gain insight on other users’ experiences with different credit card companies. The website has also been designed so web developers can pull data and other information to create other online tools. 

SEC's Electronic Data-Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval System (EDGAR)

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that all publically traded domestic companies file necessary forms on EDGAR. Its purpose is to increase efficiency and fairness of the securities market by speeding up the analysis of the required forms.

EDGAR also allows the public to view statements of income, cash flow, shareholder equity, and operations. This leads to safer, more reliable investments, as well as giving the public the ability to research earnings of specific companies.

Ethics.gov

Ethics.gov put records and data from throughout the federal government into one place. It contains Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) records, Lobbying Disclosure Reports, Federal Election Commission (FEC) candidates and contributions, Office of Government Ethics (OGE) travel reports, and White House visitors.

It allows people to review information on candidates and campaign financing. You can see who has been visiting the White House and review payments to lobbyists and see what issues they’ve worked on.

By: Lili Shirley
intern, POGO

Lili Shirley At the time of Publication Lili Shirley was an intern at the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Ethics, FOIA, Government Secrecy, Information Access, Open Government, Sunshine Week

Authors: Lili Shirley

Submitted by John Judge at: March 16, 2013
Another tool that has worked better than either Freedom of Information Act requests or Mandatory Declassification Requests is Congressional legislation to override Executive Branch, Congressional, federal, state, local and court secrecy around release of classified and other information. Two successful examples of this are the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act and the Nazi War Crimes Records Act. Respectively, they led to the release of over 6.5 million and 8 million classified pages, the largest releases in US history to date. They worked because they established an independent review panel that could override the agencies, used far more stringent standards than FOIA to postpone release of information, set a date for full release, provided substitute language in redacted documents that related to the history without compromising agent identities, sources or methods, and operated with a presumption of release that favored public interest in history over agency secrecy. Sadly, they were not able to release all the related files, and we continue to fight the agencies for information buried for over 50 years. Read the recommendations in the Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board at http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/arrb98/part12.htm, they are still pertinent. We are working for passage of a Martin Luther King Records Act by this Congress to release tens of thousands of pages still withheld. We had hoped that President Obama's Executive Order releasing records 30 years or older would solve the problem, but the boards created to review and declassify historical records of clear public interest exempted the remaining records in these matters from their purview. The NARA also refused a request to expedite release of the JFK files for 2013, the 50th anniversary of the assassination, as they have done with other files related to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Pentagon Papers, for instance. You can join over 2,000 others in signing an online petition to release the remaining JFK records at http://www.change.org/petitions/free-the-jfk-files?utm_source=supporter_message&utm_medium=email John Judge, Coalition on Political Assassinations, Washington, DC
Submitted by Kate at: March 16, 2013
Good info. Thanks, Lili
Submitted by Tony D at: March 11, 2013
We need a reliable AngiesList.gov

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