Thank you to the Sunlight Foundation’s “Real Time Investigations” project, where Bill Allison and Anupama Narayanswamy are undertaking a massive FOIA inquiry to create a searchable database that would be helpful to other reporters (like me).

They’ve sent FOIAs to more than 100 government agencies asking for logs of Congressional correspondence to the federal bureaucracy. The idea is to see what members of Congress are up to as they privately lobby different departments.

Responses are trickling in (one agency even sent info on a floppy disk) and Bill and Anu have posted some of the logs in spreadsheet format. For my investigation of earmarks, I used the EPA logs, for example, to spot inquiries relating to the 2007 budget and asked for those specific pieces of mail by control number. I also used the Air Force logs. I think requesting the specific documents probably sped up the FOIA process quite a bit, rather than dumping open-ended requests on beleaguered FOIA officers.

When Sunlight starts getting a critical mass of correspondence logs, and posts it all online, it should be a great tool.

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Will Evans is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting has prompted government investigations, legislation, reforms and prosecutions. A series on working conditions at Amazon warehouses was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award. His work has also won multiple Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, including for a series on safety problems at Tesla. Other investigations have exposed secret spying at Uber, illegal discrimination in the temp industry and rampant fraud in California's drug rehab system for the poor. Prior to joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2005, Evans was a reporter at The Sacramento Bee. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.