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Syracuse University Magazine
March 2015

Data Driven: A tenacious government watchdog, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse has held federal agencies accountable to the American people for more than a quarter century
By Christine Yackel

When the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border heated up last summer, Dallas Morning News reporter Dianne Solis was there to cover the escalating crisis. She questioned what was happening to the thousands of children streaming into Texas without a parent—and into immigration court without a lawyer. To find out, she turned to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, where she had access to more than 100,000 records obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review within the U.S. Department of Justice. With accurate and up-to-date immigration statistics in hand, Solis was able to report more fully on such issues as the higher deportation rates in Texas versus California, and the likelihood that a juvenile immigrant without legal representation will be deported. “TRAC was indispensable,” Solis says. “And, luckily for so many journalists, right on top of a complex story.” TRAC is a not-for-profit, non-partisan data gathering, research, and distribution organization that keeps track of the federal government by the numbers. Founded in 1989 as a joint project between the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, TRAC was using the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain government records long before such news organizations as ProPublica and The National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting entered the arena of investigative journalism. “TRAC was the first information resource of its kind in the nation to combine federal computerized records with the FOIA mandate,” says Susan B. Long, co-founder and co-director of TRAC, and a professor of managerial statistics in the finance department of the Whitman School. “We’re pioneers in this, and it’s a real shock to a federal agency when we request their internal data.”

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
Copyright 2015
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