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ChatChat - Claudia Cragg

Dec 8, 2011

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(The TRAC research paper under discussion in this interview is 'Criminal Prosecutions for Financial Institution Fraud. Also mentioned is their recent Immigration Report, 'ICE Targets Fewer Criminals in Deportation Proceedings'). 

'David Burnham -- a writer, investigative reporter and researcher -- is the co-founder and co-director with Professor Susan A. Long of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). For the last three decades he has specialized in the critical examination of numerous government enforcement bureaucracies including the New York Police Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Environmental Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the Justice Department.

Among the stories Burnham developed while with The New York Times (1968 - 1986) was a police corruption series in the early 1970s that ultimately resulted in major governmental reforms and the movie Serpico. As a reporter in the paper's Washington bureau, he focused on privacy issues and the shortcomings of federal regulation, including those of the Atomic Energy/Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Karen Silkwood was on her way to give Burnham information about the manufacture of faulty fuel rods by the Kerr Mcgee Corporation when she died in a car crash.

Burnham has also written several books (The Rise of the Computer State (1983), A Law Unto Itself:Power, Politics and the IRS (1990) Above The Law (1996) and numerous magazine articles. In 1989, he became the Washington-based co-director of TRAC, a data-gathering, research and data-distribution organization associated with Syracuse University, as well as an associate research professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The goal of TRAC, where Burnham now works with his colleague and co-found Professor Susan B. Long, is to provide the public and members of the oversight community -- reporters, public interest groups, Congressional committees, scholars and others -- with the comprehensive performance data they need to hold federal investigative and regulatory agencies accountable. TRAC has been supported by Syracuse University, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Knight Foundation, the New York Times Company Foundation, the Open Society Institute and numerous news organizations, advocacy groups, scholars and lawyers.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is a non-profit, non-partisan research data center at Syracuse University. Established in 1989, TRAC strives to improve the ability of the American people to independently assess the fairness and effectiveness of the federal government.

■ Methods. TRAC achieves its mission by: (1) using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain administrative data about the daily operations of government; (2) validating and analyzing this information; (3) building computerized knowledge bases; (4) publishing analytical reports, and (5) disseminating these resources through the web (

■ Users. The information provided by TRAC, available nowhere else, has attracted an impressive range of users:

▪ Reporters writing about tax enforcement, the environment, terrorism, immigration, official corruption, corporate crime, federal staffing and spending, police brutality, computer fraud, and hundreds of other subjects have found TRAC data essential. Paid subscribers to our TRACFED services now range from The New York Times and the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News, and from CNN to NPR and the AP.

▪ Numerous governmental bodies—including the U.S. Supreme Court, House and Senate committees such as the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the House Government Operations Committee, the House Joint Committee on the Department of Homeland Security, the General Accountability Office, and Inspector General offices—have used TRAC data in their official oversight activities.

▪ Public advocacy groups with widely varied interests—Human Rights Watch, the National Rifle Association, Heritage Foundation, Center for Public Integrity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Morality in Media and the Alliance For Justice—have strengthened their reports and studies with authoritative government data provided by TRAC.

▪ Millions of US citizens—concerned about how the government is meeting its essential responsibilities—have come to study TRAC’s special reports on protecting the nation against terrorism, priorities at the IRS and the FBI, Homeland Security staffing, and other subjects.

TRAC’s data and reports may be found at the preceding link.

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