Five Great Online Tools for Mining Public Records

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This post first appeared on the Project On Government Oversight blog.

The homepage of the Recovery.gov website. The website was created under the Recovery Act to help Americans track government spending of Recovery funds, including contracts, grants and loans.
The homepage of the Recovery.gov website. The website was created under the Recovery Act to help Americans track government spending of Recovery funds, including contracts, grants and loans.

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.


Lili ShirleyLili Shirley is an intern at the Project On Government Oversight.
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  • Reb

    Hmmm. I’m not able to open the FOIA online site on Safari. I can get to the FOIA site, but not of the links to online work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laurie-Sweeney-Aust-Morris/1574543143 Laurie Sweeney Aust Morris

    But charged by the page.

  • http://twitter.com/freegovinfo freegovinfo

    and don’t forget to visit your local federal depository library. we’ve got deep, rich collections and skilled librarians to help. Find your closest FDLP library at http://fdlp.gov.

    and for those concerned about being charged for access to .gov databases, please sign our petition to have the White House change that. The petition is at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/require-free-online-permanent-public-access-all-federal-government-information-and-publications/h7K86wdJ

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  • Leota Shimabukuro

    Thank you!

  • Mike Horyn

    Thanks for your research and work!