Data can speak at least as loudly as human sources. Raw data for stories abound in budgets and justification books — where agencies justify their budget requests — and even better, they’re available online.
Submitting a Freedom of Information Act request for data not readily available can be helpful, but veteran reporters caution not to expect much; it can be easy for committees to sit on your request.
“FOIA’s kind of frustrating because there’s a chance you’re going to get something good, but in this day and age of immediacy, it’s hard to sell it internally, I’ve found,” said The Hill’s John T. Bennett.
Many national security reporters recommend seeking help from inside the offices to craft your request in a way that will ensure a quick, useful response.
But if raw data seems daunting, remember that you don’t have to be fluent in whatever language the data’s speaking: There are people who spend their days making sense of it all.
Justification books, for instance, can be difficult to read, said Politico’s Jen DiMascio. She recommends seeking clarification from Hill staffers.
The Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service are charged with conducting analyses of government policies. The GAO offers its reports online on its website. Unfortunately, the CRS doesn’t, but you can go to Open CRS, an organization that posts CRS reports already in the public domain on the web.
Keep in mind that think tanks are not just sources of experts but also great sources of information in the reports they publish. Make sure you sign up for their press releases, and check back often for reports on your beat. Then don’t hesitate to ask the experts to explain what the reports mean if it isn’t clear.