44 U.S. Code § 3511(a) mandates that “the head of each agency shall, to the maximum extent practicable, develop and maintain a comprehensive data inventory that accounts for all data assets created by, collected by, under the control or direction of, or maintained by the agency.” These comprehensive data inventories have specific requirements, are distinct from “data catalogs,” and are not restricted to public datasets.

Another portion of federal law, 44 U.S. Code § 3505(c), requires that “[t]he head of each agency shall develop and maintain an inventory of major information systems (including major national security systems) operated by or under the control of such agency.”

Our FOIA request 📄 to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeks all records that contribute to the agency’s fulfillment of those two requirements.

Notably, the USDA is listed as ones of the “contributing agencies” to an April 2022 report underscoring the importance of agency data inventories.

Although agency does publish a listing of datasets via https://www.usda.gov/data.json, that file appears to be substantially incomplete. As evidence: Only three agencies of the USDA (Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, and Rural Development) appear to have listed more than one non-public dataset; several agencies (such as the Rural Utilities Service and Rural Housing Service) appear not to be represented even in the public datasets; and some agencies are represented by far fewer datasets than seem to be realistic (for example, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which appears to have contributed only 3 entries to the file).

Note: The Data Liberation Project’s initial attempt to submit this request through the USDA’s FOIA portal appears to have failed; we resubmitted it February 7, 2023.

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