Why Do We Charge?
It is a sad reality that, despite the self evident principle that secrecy is rarely consistent with our democratic form of government, and in the face of the specific requirements of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the federal government over and over again withholds data that should be available to the American people. TRAC was formed to resist these unlawful actions. Unlike the government, TRAC has no built-in source of revenue. We operate in a real world where, although the data might be theoretically "free," actually obtaining and bringing it to you involve many costs.
As a not-for-profit academic research center with public service as a central mission, to keep our doors open, we must constantly look for sources of funding. Currently our major sources of support are foundations and gifts as well as donations of time and services — particularly the pro bono work of a team of FOIA lawyers so essential to our efforts. Syracuse University provides important institutional support. We do not seek or accept any money from the federal government. User-fees help defray some of the marginal costs for supporting a small but increasingly important portion of our services as we seek to expand the range of information we can provide.
So what are our expenses? Generally they fall into four categories:
- Data Location and Access.
Finding and acquiring data of interest consume a considerable portion of our resources. Often we will need to submit several FOIA requests just to get the information we need to file a FOIA request for the data itself. If we are unable to provide exact specifications, our requests are likely to be turned down. Our FOIA effort requires increasing amounts of tracking, follow-up, and more and more often pursuing it through court litigation.
- Data Processing and the Data Warehouse.
Luckily, we have been very successful at finding and acquiring data necessitating all the logistics necessary to keep track of what we are getting — and what we've been promised but are not getting. Once data is shipped to us, as described in About Us, we put it through a series of verification and validation checks. We merge in other relevant data such as population figures to provide a more complete picture. After a series of data builds, the data is added to the TRACFED data warehouse ready for use. Many of our procedures have been automated and require heavy duty hardware and software support. Even so, a significant amount of human expertise and intelligence is still needed.
- Information Production and Delivery.
The costly tasks of getting and preparing the data would be meaningless if we were not able to deliver understandable information to people who could use it. From the data warehouse, each month we produce approximately 100,000 reports and 15,000 case studies. Each year we do the analyses for and write six to seven in-depth investigative reports. Luckily, the World Wide Web has made it feasible to deliver this information to a vast and ever increasing audience. It also makes it possible for us to provide our users access to the data warehouse itself. Given its importance, we devote a great deal of time, effort, and money to the design and maintenance of our web site as well as the hardware and software to support it.
- User Support.
As might be expected when analyzing data, users have questions. Many of our subscribers have limited statistical training and the data itself is complex. As a service to our site license subscribers, we run training sessions, man help lines, and provide statistical and other expert advice. Although we have been unable to routinely extend these popular but labor-intensive services to our monthly subscribers who may only be with us for a month at a time, we have designed online help and tutorials that are freely available.
To all our users who support us with gifts, monthly subscriptions, site licenses and report purchases: