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TRACfed (from the Spring 2014 Newsletter)

TRACfed screenshot

Screenshots from TRACfed

Many of the library databases provide access to scholarly journals, but the library also has many special purpose databases. TRACfed is one of them.  TRACfed uses U.S. Federal Government data collected by TRAC (the “Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse”)—mostly pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (foia) —to track how the government enforces the law, assigns its employees and spends money.   

TRACfed uses this data to create reports (the TRACreports) and makes the data available to subscribers so they can create custom reports.  Federal offices that are mined for data include: 

  • Federal Courts and Judges
  • Drug Enforcement (DEA)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) 

Two recent reports—Federal Drug Prosecutions Fall to Lowest Levels in Over 13 Years and Criminal Deportation Filings Dip to 12%—provide some insight into the types of reports you might find in TRACfed.

If you are interested in learning about the “lead charges” under the U.S. Code assigned by federal prosecutors across the country, you can use the “About the law” tool.  Just click on a section of the U.S. Code and find out how many prosecutions and convictions took place and what their geographic distribution was.  Would it surprise you to learn that in 2013 there was a total of 71 prosecutions and 43 convictions under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and that most of those cases occurred in the eastern half of the United States?

For those more interested in accessing data to do their own analysis, tracfed has three tools designed to meet a range of needs aptly called Express, Going Deeper and Analyzer. The data that can be accessed with these tools varies based on which of the 6 “layers” of information you are researching: 

  • Criminal (enforcement)
  • Civil (enforcement)
  • Administrative (enforcement)
  • People (federal employees)
  • Money (federal expenditures)
  • Context (demographic and economic information about your community) 

Using the Criminal layer as an example: if you want to know the monthly prosecution, conviction or prison sentences of one year or more, then the pull-down menu in the Express tool is the one for you. If you also want to know the lead charges, what agency brought them, and what prosecutions were declined, then use Going Deeper. If you want to create your own unique data slice on a topic or by a specific agency or statute, use Analyzer, but be sure to first take the Guided Tour to familiarize yourself with this powerful tool.

The design of TRACfed interface looks somewhat dated and cluttered, but once you get started it is surprisingly easy to navigate. It contains a massive amount of federal government data and provides robust tools to meet the needs of the beginning and expert researcher.  TRACfed is the product of a nonpartisan project associated with Syracuse University.

Maureen Richards