OPEN GOVERNMENT — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today ordered the Internet posting of all state contracts valued at $5,000, as well as internal and external audits
of state departments and agencies, including information on operations, budget
and programs, dating back to January 1, 2008.
S-08-09 thus adds a new component to the Reporting Government Transparency website, which already shows the statements of economic interests and travel expense claims of for the Governors office senior staff and deputies,
agency secretaries, agency undersecretaries and department
According to a press release from the Governor's office, the added posting will begin soon.
Starting June 19, summary information on all state contracts reported to the Department of
General Services will be posted on the Web
site within five working days, dating back to
March 2009. Starting on June 12, internal
financial, operational, compliance and performance audits done by
departments will be posted on the Web
site dating back to January 1,
2008. Audits performed by outside entities such as the Bureau of State
Audits, the State Controllers Office, the Department of Finance and the
Department of General Services will also be posted dating back to January 1,
Based on how the site works so far, it's likely that the contracts and audits will be posted as individual pdf documents rather than having their content presented in a searchable database. While this relatively dumbed-down (or not yet smarted-up) spoonful approach is better than nothing, it's ironic that the Governor is now spinning the effort as a response to taxpayer demand in a moment of crisis ("In this time of deep
recession, it is more critical than ever that state government operates
efficiently and is accountable to the people"). The crisis may mean that individual document posting rather than searchable database facility is all that the state can now afford.
That need not have been the case.
Californians Aware tried to get the state to join, if not lead, the curve toward smart transparency by sponsoring a billAB 1393 (Leno) of 2007that among other things would have called on the Attorney General to convene an advisory task force of public information, privacy and technical experts to report to the Legislature by January 1 of this year on the advantages, costs and savings of, and the safeguards needed for, requiring state agencies to post certain standard performance information on their web sitesas a matter of course rather than making those records available to requesters on a request-only basis.
The bill called for the "(s)pecific consideration" of "records that relate to the compensation and economic interests of key public officials and consultants, and the performance of public agencies, including, but not limited to, the settlement of litigation."
The bill passed the Assembly 77-0 and the Senate 40-0, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it, calling the task force and its mission unnecessary, since (m)y Administration's commitment to the Public Records Act is unwavering and I am confident future Administrations will share this attitude.
Unfortunately, the Governor was misinformed. AB 1393 was in part a reaction to our 2006 Public Records Act compliance audit of 31 state agencies, which showed an extraordinarily poor average on the first visit and a barely adequate average on the secondafter refresher training of the responsible officials and employees, provided in response to a hasty Executive Order.
Since then the trend to front-loading governmental profile and performance data on state agency websites has accelerated markedly elsewhere, particularly in the area of finances. As noted in a recent report of the National Association of State Budget Officers,
The trend has progressed far enough that an international professional society, the Association for Computing Machinery, has developed seven recommendations to guide governments in making data available on the Internet in forms lending themselves to analysis and reuse by the citizenry.
While giving due credit for the latest steps taken to put anything on line, one has to wonder whether, by the time the state can again afford to do the job as it should be done, Governor Schwarzenegger or his successor (and none of the currently identified contenders seems notably more keen than he for open government) will still sense a crisis of confidence impelling such true transparency.