#AmazonHQ2 and transparency: An ongoing post-mortem

#AmazonHQ2 and transparency: An ongoing post-mortem

Explore an interactive map of 206 known proposals for Amazon’s second headquarters, plus a collection of 82 bid documents released so far

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A majority of proposals cities submitted to Amazon during its HQ2 bidding process are still not public.

It’s now been more than a year since Amazon released its second headquarters RFP, and weeks since it announced Greater D.C. and New York City as its split HQ2 locations. Through two rounds of records requests and extensive research, MuckRock was only able to find 82 of the 238 proposals the e-commerce company says it received. (You can explore those bids below.)

Of proposals that have been made public, some were released preemptively by cities trying to maintain transparency. Others were obtained by MuckRock and other news outlets through records requests and FOIA lawsuits.

Here’s a map of proposals MuckRock requested, obtained, or learned of through research. Blue marks indicate the municipality’s proposal was released, while orange marks indicate that the municipality likely (or certainly) submitted a bid that has not been made public. By clicking on bars in the charts below, you can filter the map to only include certain values, i.e. applicants that didn’t release their proposals, or those that released their proposals online preemptively.

One bid from the Triad in North Carolina was released to the Triad Business Journal, but not released on the internet for public review.

By design, the entire bidding process for Amazon’s second headquarters has been shrouded in secrecy. Cities have claimed FOIA exemptions by calling their proposals trade secrets, and have routed their proposals through private organizations to avoid the public eye. The two cities selected for HQ2 have not released their proposals.

In the face of widespread confidentiality, some cities went above and beyond to keep their dealings transparent. We found that only 25 cities released their bids online after submitting them to Amazon and before we requested them.

This included 10 Massachusetts municipalities, most of which responded to MuckRock’s public records requests with links to their public sites. We reported early on that Massachusetts towns were readily releasing documents in comparison to other localities, and it held true for the rest of the HQ2 saga. Sixteen of the state’s municipalities ended up releasing their proposals.

In comparison, five California cities released their bids proactively. That comprised all but two of California requests that have been released, although nine have still not released documents - notably, finalist city Los Angeles.

Connecticut and New Hampshire also released their statewide bids proactively, along with Camden County and Old Bridge, New Jersey; Syracuse, New York; and Toronto.

At least 35 other municipalities released their proposals in response to public records requests from MuckRock, other news organizations, and individuals. Some held out to release their bids publicly until after the 20 finalist cities were announced in January. Still others held out until Amazon announced the cities it chose - even in the face of lawsuits.

But even now, after the Amazon bid wars have come to a close, most municipalities are still maintaining their HQ2 secrets. Two-thirds of proposals are still hidden from the public eye. And it’s still unknown where more than 30 of those bids came from in the first place.

Seven finalist cities are still concealing their proposals, including Chicago, which won a lawsuit Lucy Parsons Labs filed against the city in February in an attempt to release the bid in its entirety.

In an additional layer of secrecy, 19 of the released proposals have redactions, ranging from individual lines and numbers to full pages of redactions. Most often these redactions concealed information pertaining to the sites and tax incentives the city offered Amazon — i.e. the most meaningful data in terms of gauging what cities were willing to offer to get a behemoth like Amazon to put jobs in their territory.

What’s more, much of what municipalities claimed in their proposals isn’t verifiable, or would take significant time and resources to confirm.

As MuckRock sends its next round of information requests - its first round post-HQ2 location announcement - many of the agencies’ exemptions citing the ongoing competition will be inapplicable. Whether municipalities will release the documents or continue to call them trade secrets remains to be seen.

Below is a running list of cities whose proposals we have found or received, linked to the bid documents we have received for them. Are we missing any documents that you’ve seen online or read about in the news? Let us know so we can add them to our living compilation.

Released Bids

United States of America

Arizona

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

District of Columbia

Florida

Georgia

Illinois

Indiana

Maine

Maryland

Michigan

  • Detroit, in partnership with Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Document begins at the bottom of the PDF, not the top)

Massachusetts

Missouri

  • St. Louis (Filed jointly between Missouri and Illinois)

  • State proposal parts one and two

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York

North Carolina

Ohio

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Tennessee

Texas

Washington

Wisconsin

Canada

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

Nova Scotia

Ontario


Image by Hoary via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0