Behind the Justice Department’s blue badge, U.S. attorney’s offices have until recently enjoyed a great amount of obscurity. Just how well the approximately 4,700 lawyers in the 94 federal districts employed their resources was largely unknown. Although newspapers scrutinized high-profile cases brought by local federal prosecutors, bigger questions of how effective and efficient their efforts were — and how they measured up their counterparts in other districts — often remained unexplored.

Thanks to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), however, a newly coherent picture of federal prosecutors is emerging. Set up in 1989, TRAC is a database run by David Burnham, a former New York Times reporter, and Susan Long, a statistics professor at Syracuse University. The main source of TRAC’s information is the case management system maintained by the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, which tracks the activities of every federal prosecutor’s office across the country. Each month the outposts submit detailed computer records on their caseload to the executive office, which combines the figures into a national database, runs various validity checks, and issues a final statistical compilation at the end of the fiscal year. As a result of a settlement of an Electronic Freedom of Information Act suit brought by TRAC against the Justice Department in early 1998, the executive office provides TRAC with its annual analysis.

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