For the Record: Requesting data inventories

For the Record: Requesting data inventories

MuckRock’s #FOIAFriday webinar series continued last Friday with a step-by-step guide on how to request data inventories from federal and state agencies.

But first: what is a data inventory? Essentially, it is a dataset that lists all the data held by an agency.

This seems almost too good to be true: if an agency keeps a list of all the data they collect, a requester doesn’t have to dig much to know what to request. What about all the fun mucking around to figure out what documents or data your government has?

Thanks in part to an executive order titled, “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information,” requesters can sometimes save the mucking for after they get the data. Following that order, the Office of Management and Budget required federal agencies to maintain a data inventory.

But even before the age of data and ubiquitous spreadsheets, public agencies like police departments kept a list of all the forms they used. States have also changed their open data laws. In Minnesota, the Department of Administration requires government entities to “create a document that identifies and describes any private or confidential data maintained by the entity,” which can be seen in action in Minneapolis’ city data inventory.

In California, the Department of Technology announced their new Open Data Policy in 2019, which “provides guidelines to identify, review, prioritize and prepare publishable data for access by the public and government entities via an open data portal or open data site.”

Friday’s session included live filing for data inventories from NASA and California’s Department of Justice.

Watch the session on data inventories below and register for June’s session here.

The Update

  • West Virginia agency denies newsroom’s public records request: The West Virginia Department of Human Services failed to give more than five months of financial documents related to temporary housing for foster children, reports Amelia Knisely in the West Virginia Watch. The Department of Human Services rejected the newsroom’s request for documents, in a response that one West Virginia delegate called either “incompetent or they’re lying.”

  • Washington state transparency rankings: The Washington Coalition for Open Government released its “Winners & Sinners” list, ranking state and local agencies by average time taken to complete public records requests over a five-year period.

  • New Jersey bill aims to alter state’s public records law: The New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and state lawmakers, urging them to reject a new bill that would make substantial changes to the state’s Open Public Records Act. The organization says the bill would “further [shroud] emails in secrecy and gives records custodians power to deny access to many documents.” This comes after state lawmakers pulled a similar bill from a vote.

FOIA Finds