Montgomery County Passes Ambitious Open Government Act

December 20, 2012

In Maryland, the Montgomery County Council has unanimously passed open data legislation which updates and improves the way government information is collected, managed, and published. On a guest post on the Code for America blog, councilmember Hans Riemer writes that the bill:

  • Establishes an open data policy for county government, with the intention of publishing a comprehensive data set for each department
  • Requires creation of an implementation plan as a regulation that must be approved by the Council, to ensure there is no gap between the policy goal and actual implementation
  • Mandates publishing results of public records requests submitted under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA), a first for any local government
Montgomery County has nearly one million residents and an annual budget of $3.6 billion. If it were in New York State, it would be the 7th largest county. Montgomery’s open government act will cover many tens (if not hundreds) of datasets and documents, and as such, is an excellent model for cities, counties, and even other states.
Specifically, open government legislation like this would be extremely welcome in New York State. While New York City passed its own open data law earlier this year, there is no statewide equivalent yet. Until we have a state open data law, counties and municipalities in New York State can still harness the information technology revolution by passing their own local legislation modeled on the federal Open Government Directive, the New York City Open Data Law, or even Montgomery County’s Open Data Act.
While we like the entire law, the third bullet point above is arguably the most important: publicly displaying the results of public records requests. Freedom of Information laws are our democracy’s most fundamental transparency tool. By opening this process to the public, governments can reduce duplicate requests, increase overall access to information, and collect metrics about the kinds of government data its constituents want.
The Montgomery County version is actually ahead of the federal model in this regard: the federal FOIA only requires agencies upload frequently-requested documents. One example of this is the FBI’s reading room “The Vault,” but not all FOIA requests are posted. Montgomery deserves recognition for its commitment to open government.