OPEN GOVERNMENT -- About half of all states post more key public information online than California, according to a national survey conducted by media organizations as part of Sunshine Week, an annual effort designed to bring attention to open government. The Sacramento Bee reports that "the home of Silicon Valley lagged behind states like Kansas and North Dakota in the survey, which was released today."
In North Carolina, residents can go to a government Web site and instantly look up the safety record of any child day care facility in the state. But not in California.
In Nevada, residents can review the financial interests of public officials online, seeing for themselves whether they might have conflicts of interest. But not in California.
And in Washington state, residents can search an online database to see exactly how the government is spending taxpayer money. But not in California.
It is now increasingly recognized that government should use the powers of the Internet affirmatively to make public information documenting its performance readily accessible for online review and analysis.
Californians Aware attempted to advance this “showcase” approach recognition by sponsoring a bill—AB 1393 (Leno) of 2007—that 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 safeguards for, requiring state agencies to post certain standard performance information on their web sites “rather than making those records available to requesters on a request-only basis.”
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.”
Either the Governor was misinformed or intended to misinform the public. 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 second—after 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.
But this Governor is a lost cause on the issue. Even when all that was called for was an expert study of what state data should be on the Internet, he treated legislation to that effect as an affront to his administration's "unwavering" commitment to open government.