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Civic Groups To NY State: We Need An Open Government Roadmap

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, March 22 2012

Several leading civic groups on Thursday dropped a short but ambitious open government "to-do" list on the doorsteps of New York State government officials, saying that it's high time that they accelerated open government efforts by adopting a mix of simple and longer term changes to the way they operate.

The groups include familiar names, such as Citizens Union, Common Cause New York, League of Women Voters of New York State, and the New York Public Interest Research Group , as well as the not-so-familiar, but aptly-named Reinvent Albany.

They want New York State government to make better use of technology to make the information it generates more accessible to the public, and gave the governor, the state legislature, the attorney general and comptroller a few specifics to get them started.

"Unfortunately, the state does not appear to have a plan, process, timeline, or guiding intelligence in place for getting the state's massive wealth of digital information online, or spreading good ideas within government," wrote John Kaehny, Dominic Mauro and Benjamin Yee in their brief manifesto "A New Transparency for NY State."

The most pertinent point that the authors make is that "Most transparency measures involve a change in mindset, not great expense."

Once government operators internalize that truism, many of the next tech moves should be obvious: Save documents and make them available online in searchable formats, and not as PDFs, for example. Create a Freedom of Information Law portal. Put the most requested FOIL documents online. Adopt open data policies. Pick a subject area to fast-track to show how useful open government data can be. These are just a few of the group's recommendations for Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The group does acknowledge that New York State has made some moves in the right direction. The state is releasing a performance measurement system online this July, for example, and the New York State comptroller has a "very strong 'follow the money' site. But they could do more. The five groups plan to follow up with more detailed recommendations in a couple of months.