How to Run a Public Records Audit with a Team of Students

Article by By Lam Thuy Vo: “…The Markup (like many other organizations) uses public record requests as an important investigative tool, and we’ve published tips for fellow journalists on how to best craft their requests for specific investigations. But based on where government institutions are located, public record laws vary. Generally, government institutions are required to release documents to anyone who requests them, except when information falls under a specific exemption, like information that invades an individual’s privacy or if there are trade secrets. Federal institutions are governed by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but state or local government agencies have their own state freedom of information laws, and they aren’t all identical. 

Public record audits take a step back. By sending the same freedom of information (FOI) request to agencies around the country, audits can help journalists, researchers and everyday people track which agency will release records and which may not, and if they’re complying with state laws. According to the national freedom of information coalition, “audits have led to legislative reforms and the establishment of ombudsman positions to represent the public’s interests.” 

The basics of auditing is simple: Send the same FOI request to different government agencies, document how you followed up, and document the outcome. Here’s how we coordinated this process with student reporters…(More)”.