TRAC's Recent FOIA Activities
TRAC's core purpose is to make information about the federal
government's staffing, expenditures and enforcement efforts 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.
Some agencies are remarkably open. More agencies are not. In some circumstances TRAC has to file suit in federal court to force the release of vital data.
Release of DOJ Environment and Natural Resources Division Data: On July 12, 2002 TRAC received the first data table from ENRD's case management system. The file tracks the work on 78,189 cases of ENRD's ten sections. The original FOIA request for its case management system data was submitted June 25, 2001, over a year ago. This was a preliminary release of what ENRD termed "nonproblematic" fields and the DOJ Division continues its FOIA review.
Release of DOJ Monthly Data: (May 31, 2002) As a result of a FOIA suit filed by TRAC against the Justice Department in February of 2000 challenging the government's contention that it only needed to release information from its computerized management information systems at fiscal year-end rather than at more frequent intervals, the government has finally started to release information on a monthly basis to TRAC. TRAC has now added these monthly updates to its Criminal layer on TRACFED.
New Court Order Against DOJ:
(April 30, 2002) Judge Paul J. Friedman of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in a suit brought by TRAC against the United States Department of Justice: "Defendant's previous two summary judgment motions were withdrawn after plaintiffs discovered errors in the motions and demonstrated that they were entitled to certain information that was withheld by defendant. Each time defendant moved and was permitted to withdraw the dispositve motion, released additional information to plaintiffs, and filed a new summary judgment motion that purportedly corrected the previous errors. With respect to defendant's third and most recent motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs once again have discovered several factual errors." Judge Friedman, while declining to impose sanctions against the government, further found: "It should be clear to defendant, however, that further delays created by erroneous factual representations in defendant's next motion for summary judment may require the Court to revisit plaintiffs' motion for sanctions or consider even more drastic sanctions upon motion or sua sponte. The complicated nature of this litigation should not be an excuse for further errors, but rather should be an incentive for defendant, the Department of Justice, and its attorneys to adopt fail safe mechanisms to assure that its [next] motion for summary judgment and supporting documentation are accurate and have a proper factual basis."
Additional DOJ data tapes released:
(February 22, 2002) The Department of Justice under
court order provided TRAC with an additional 191
computer data tapes, boxes of paper records, CDs
and floppy disks. This
occurred in TRAC's lawsuit for the release of
information from EOUSA data systems which track:
(a) referrals for criminal prosecution, (b) civil
suits brought by DOJ, (c) suits brought against the
federal government, (d) collection actions, and (e)
time expenditures by program .
TRAC Court Victory Results in Major Data Release:
(November 20, 2001) After a bruising
FOIA court battle, the Justice Department under
court order has provided the Transactional
Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) with 131
computer data tapes. A second shipment of 170
computer data tapes arrived November 20, 2001.