1 billion records and counting: The Accountability Project reaches new milestone

lots of numbers and data (depositphotos)

Jennifer LaFleur and Cole Goins


Data Journalism
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When The Investigative Reporting Workshop launched The Accountability Project in 2019, the goal was to provide one place for researchers and journalists to search across a wide catalog of previously siloed public data at once. 

This month TAP reached a new milestone: 1 billion records. 

Our collections include a wide variety of data on money in politics, nonprofit organizations, government spending and several other topics – all accessible from a single search.

Like most newsrooms, the TAP team pivoted after the pandemic hit. We wanted to make sure we provided tools to help newsrooms cover COVID-19 and its fallout. We added data on the federal Paycheck Protection Program and other CARES Act funding, as well as data on hospitals and nursing homes

The power of having all the data in one search is to find common threads. For example, someone searching Paycheck Protection Program loans in their community also can see whether those organizations or individuals donated to a campaign or received federal or state contracts.

The TAP team acquires data from public sources via public records requests or from government websites. Every database is reviewed, standardized and indexed by someone on the team. To show you what we did, each dataset includes our processing notes.

TAP is searchable by name, organization and address. Nonprofits also are searchable by their federal ID numbers. While all of the data is free to search, some datasets, such as voter and property data, require a logon and password. Visit the Accountability Project to request a free logon

In addition to expanding our data catalog, we have added new features in recent months. We recently incorporated Datasette, an open-source tool for exploring data, so users can query our data directly. We’re created some canned queries, such as this one to explore hospital ICU capacity. Users also can create their own SQL queries. 

We didn’t stop at the search tool. The TAP team also has supported deeper data work on investigative and accountability reporting by local news organizations across the country.

“The Accountability Project has helped us bring transparency to Ohio,” said Lucia Walinchus, executive director for the nonprofit newsroom Eye on Ohio.  “Dark money is at the heart of the scandal, which resulted in the arrest of the Speaker of the Ohio house last year in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme. Without databases like the accountability project, these important public service stories would not be written.” 

We’re currently working on a series of investigations with local news partners powered by TAP data. We also are looking for new reporting projects that use data from TAP. Have a story that leverages public data? Pitch us your project.

We have additional ways for you to get involved with TAP and help us continue to build this robust resource for public data:

  • Bring TAP to your classroom. We developed a guide for data journalism instructors to use TAP in the classroom. Students at Boston University, The Missouri School of Journalism and American University have contributed data to our collection. We’d love to hear from anyone interested in using TAP in the classroom.
  • Tell us what data we should include. Much of our work has been informed by users. We’re interested in hearing your suggestions for data or features.
  • Let us know how you’re using TAP, and how we can improve. We also really want to know how you’re using the site, what we can do to make it more useful and how it may be aiding your reporting.