Written by: John H. Thompson
The Census Bureau, as well as the rest of the Department of Commerce, is an enthusiastic proponent of open government. Since the first census in 1790, a key part of our mission has been to collect and distribute data and statistics about American people, places and economy. Our data help governments, businesses and individuals make better-informed decisions, and we’re keen for it to provide value to as many people as possible.
As part of Sunshine Week 2015, we highlighted the ways we continue to embrace the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. Census Bureau employees, other federal agencies and the public shared many great ideas and initiatives – from new digital tools that make our data useful to new audiences to webcasting our advisory committee meetings and updates about our plans for the 2020 Census.
Of course, a big topic in our discussion about open government was the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Celebrating its 50th birthday next year, FOIA gives individuals and organizations the right to access federal agencies’ records (with a few exceptions, such as some personnel information). Did you know that you can submit a FOIA request to any agency, asking for access to records on any topic?
To ask for materials from the Census Bureau under FOIA, you can submit a written request, or use FOIAonline or email firstname.lastname@example.org to submit a request electronically. The Census Bureau has a step-by-step FAQ to help guide you through the process. You can see the range of FOIA requests that the Census Bureau gets by generating a report in FOIAonline. Additionally, you can search for FOIA requests, appeals, and previously released records stored across multiple agencies, in a central repository on FOIAonline.
The public expects and deserves to have access to even more information and data, and the Census Bureau is always seeking ways to be even more accessible, and to involve the public in our data and decision-making processes. I encourage you to visit www.census.gov for a wealth of agency information, statistics and data tools – including our FOIA Library of frequently requested documents.