Freedom of Information Act Celebrates 51 Years

July 4, 2017 9:00 am PST | Effective Governing

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on July 4, 1966, he created a more complete mandate for federal government transparency and opened the door to greater citizen engagement. Since the policy went into effect on July 5,1967, FOIA requests have grown annually to number in the hundreds of thousands, and the process of responding to them has gone digital.



How FOIA Works and How It’s Used

FOIA allows citizens to request information from the federal government and then receive full or partial information, or none at all. FOIA amended the Administrative Procedure Act in order to move towards “a general philosophy of full agency disclosure.” The site shares statistics on FOIA, like how many requests are made in a year and which agencies get or fill the most requests.



In 2016, the total number of FOIA requests made rose from 713,168 to 788,769, after being relatively flat since 2013. The Department of Homeland Security currently processes the most requests and the Department of Justice grants the most full requests of any Federal agency.


Socrata and FOIA

Socrata works with a number of Federal agencies to surface, visualize, and API-enable their data in the cloud. These entities include NASA, CMS, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Digitizing data access eliminates much of the day-to-day, manual effort of responding to individual information requests. And, it opens the door to more research and discovery by citizens.

One Socrata-powered site that has received attention for its work to inform citizens is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).


Filtered view of “Payday Loan Complaints” on CFPB data site.


The CFPB database of consumer complaints and consumer narratives shares citizen complaints about private entities, such as debt collectors and mortgage companies. Visitors can see the name of the company and the exact complaint made, such as “Attempts to collect debt not owed” or “Took or threatened to take negative legal action.” Each complaint has a number and a status update, such as “In progress” or “Closed with explanation.”


Celebrate FOIA by Digging Around

Here at Socrata, we’re eager to help Federal agencies digitize access to data. We’re honored to be a part of supporting FOIA and celebrating its 51 years.

In honor of that, we wish our American readers a happy July 4th and invite you to visit Federal open data sites to discover more about what is available to you. For fun, check out this dataset about a 3D Spacesuit Model on


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