February 15, 2011
Local, state and federal governments across the country are breaking new ground in transparency by posting data they collect online. By data, I mean just about anything that ends up in a computer spreadsheet – information about schools, campaign contributions, health statistics, you name it.
This is information that agencies are already collecting anyway. And it needs to be made more available to Texans.
Some of these spreadsheets, of course, can be very hard for people to understand. Luckily, there are companies, non-profit groups, and regular people that can develop applications to help make sense of the data. This is, and should be seen as, a great deal for the state. Agencies simply have to post data they already have, and then let folks in the real world find ways to make it meaningful.
Last year, I sent a letter to a couple dozen state agencies urging them to speed up the move toward this new era of openness. And this year, I’m proposing this bill encouraging state agencies to post data sets that can increase accountability, improve knowledge of the agency’s operations, or further the agency’s mission.
This is a valuable service that would be worth spending some money on regardless. But given the state’s budget trouble, my bill clarifies that agencies must post these data sets only if they can do so:
The bill would protect any information that’s confidential or protected from disclosure under state and federal law. But it also would declare that the state needs to do all it can – and do more than it’s doing – to make information available to the public.