We started with a simple question: Who is being appointed by the Trump administration to run the federal government? After President Trump took office, the White House said it was deploying 520 political appointees on so-called “beachhead teams” but they would not release details about who they are or what offices they were working in.
In response, ProPublica began filing hundreds of Freedom of Information Act and Form 201 ethics requests to every federal agency to find the names, titles, roles and offices of hundreds of political appointees that acted as the eyes and ears of the Trump administration within the federal government but were not subject to Senate confirmation or review. In March 2017, we published our first dataset and accompanying story of more than 400 political staffers–the most exhaustive listing of Trump appointees to date–and followed it up with a second story and release in August, with more than 1,000 names.
But there was much more work to be done. We wanted to provide a resource for journalists and the public to find out who was being appointed by the Trump administration to run the federal government and work in the White House and what conflicts of interest they might have.
When we couldn’t get the names of White House staffers, we partnered with the Associated Press and New York Times to make a publicly-accessible Google Drive file and crowd-sourced the missing names. Subsequently, we created another matching story and dataset with Trump staffers’ federally-required financial disclosures and ethics waivers, including those in the White House, the only publication to create a central repository for such information.
So this March, a year after we began working to make this information publicly accessible and searchable for the first time, we launched Trump Town, an API and data download of 2,684 Trump administration political appointees, including their jobs and offices, employment history, lobbying records, government ethics documents and financial disclosures.
Dozens of news organizations use our datasets and interactives every day to find out who works in the Trump administration, what they do, what financial conflicts of interest might exist and if they’re abiding by federal ethics laws. We’ve uncovered hundreds of former and recent lobbyists populating the Trump administration, working in areas they had previously sought to influence, and several others whose qualifications and backgrounds were suspect. Several resigned and, after pressure by seven Democratic senators, the White House began releasing ethics waivers of its appointees .
Since Trump Town launched, The New York Times used it to track the roughly 260 former Trump campaign staffers that now populate the federal government. The Washington Post used it to create a visual representation of the companies, think tanks and lobbying firms where Trump appointees came from. And the consumer-oriented website Cheat Sheet made use of the data, creating a list of 10 Trump appointees who jumped from low-level jobs to the federal government.
We view this as proof that resource-minded journalism applications can serve as invaluable tools for government transparency.