Dashboard Week Day 5: Freedom of Information Act Requests

by Andy Kriebel

It’s the final day of Dashboard Week for DS19. Given the circumstances we are under that force them to work from home, they need to be commended for their hard work all week. They’ve been a pleasure and have complained very, very little.

For day 5, they will analyze Freedom of Information Act requests in America. What is FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.

~ U.S. Department of State

I most often hear of FOIA being used in investigations by journalists, but there are a myriad of reasons people would request classified information.

There is plenty of information online about FOIAs, including what the State Department says, so they should be able to generate lots of good ideas. The data for all FOIA requests has been gathered by Marquette University. The data covers all requests from 1975 (when FOIA requests were first enacted) through 2019. There is some data prep required and my preference would be for them to do this by themselves. It’s a classic data prep exercise that involves moving headers around, getting rid of unnecessary rows, etc.

Have fun team! You’ve had a great week!

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