Browse thousands of additional FOIA requests with the new FOIA Log Explorer

Browse thousands of additional FOIA requests with the new FOIA Log Explorer

FOIA logs are an invaluable resource for requesters new and old. With support from the Brown Institute, it’s now easier to use them.

Written by
Edited by Derek Kravitz

Need inspiration when coming up with public records ideas? Wish you knew which other requesters were interested in the same agencies, government initiatives or subject matter? Starting today, you have a new tool: MuckRock’s FOIA Log Explorer.

MuckRock’s users have already shared almost 90,000 public requests you can search, browse, follow or refile, but that is still just a small segment of the broader world of all Freedom of Information requests.

The FOIA Log Explorer expands that view by importing data on thousands of requests from dozens of agencies at the state, local and federal level, making it easier to search through and see what kinds of materials agencies are and are not releasing, as well as helping you craft more targeted requests of your own.

The Explorer does this by digitizing, normalizing and importing data from FOIA logs, lists that many agencies keep of all of the requests they receive over a given time period. These kinds of logs are invaluable tools for developing story ideas, whether by gathering ideas for items you can request or getting clues about commercial interest in specific areas of governmental operations.

Agencies generally structure their logs in slightly different ways, so we’ve built tools that help normalize them into a consistent FOIA log format. This includes first extracting logs from PDF files when necessary using DocumentCloud’s spreadsheet extraction tool and then renaming header columns and statuses to be consistent across agencies. Not all agencies provide the same information, so some log entries might be more detailed than others, while certain agencies like the Bureau of Prisons produce FOIA logs so vague as to be unhelpful:

The vast majority of logs, however, are an excellent research tool to better understand both requesters and agencies alike. The explorer currently includes the following fields, when available from the agency:

  • Request ID

  • Requester

  • Requester Organization

  • Subject of Request

  • Date Requested

  • Date Request Completed

  • Status or Outcome of Request

At launch, the FOIA Log Explorer includes information on almost 60,000 requests from 21 agencies, but we will be working to import new logs as they’re published as well as expanding the number of agencies tracked.

Help us expand the FOIA log library

That’s where you come in. We have already imported dozens of FOIA logs from 21 agencies and we have a number of additional logs that we’re working on processing in the coming weeks. Ultimately, however, our goal is to get as complete as possible a view into the world of public records and FOIA as we can. Since there are tens of thousands of agencies, we need your help.

If you have a large collection, feel free to reach out to and let us know — we’re excited to make this as complete a resource for requesters as we can.

Custom data and analysis available

If you’re a user of this data and your research needs go beyond the basic search and browsing options currently available, we would also love to hear from you. We can assist with custom projects that require importing additional logs from specific agencies, custom analysis of trends, alerts, bulk data exports and more. We’re interested in hearing from organizations with additional needs, and can offer a range of analysis, data cleaning, alert and development services.

You can get started with the tool here or browse and search through all FOIA logs here.

This new tool is made possible through the support of Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation, with design by Allan Lasser and product development and research by Derek Kravitz and Riya Chadha.

You can support our work continuing to maintain and expand this resource with a tax-deductible donation today or register for our newsletter for additional updates.