Cuomo Orders State Agencies to Open-Up Data

March 18, 2013

Congratulations to Governor Cuomo and his staff for his March 11th Executive Order instructing state agencies and authorities controlled by the governor  to “Use technology to promote transparency, improve government performance, and enhance citizen engagement” via a new open data initiative and website.  The Order has a terrific statement of principals in its “Whereas” section, and includes powerful language aimed at implementing what could potentially be one of the broadest open government initiatives in the United States.  The Order does the following:

  1. Establishes an open data website operated by the Department of Information Technology Services (ITS.)
  2. Puts NY’s chief Data Officer, Barbara Cohn, and CTO, Kishor Bagul to head the open data site/initiative.
  3. Appoints a high-level Data Coordinator at each agency by April 10th 2013.
  4. Establishes a “Data Working Group” led by CDO and ITS to partner with agencies by April 25, 2013.
  5. Orders state agencies to create a catalog of “publishable data” by Monday August 5th, 2013. (145 days.)
  6. Orders agencies to post a schedule for uploading publishable data by September 9, 2013. (180 days.)
  7. Offers an “Opportunity for Localities to Participate,” and directs ITS to assist in publishing their data.
  8. Creates and Open Data Handbook, with a draft version due by June 10th, 2013 (90 days,) and a final version by November 6th (240 days.)

There is much for open government advocates in New York, and nationally, to like in this carefully crafted Executive Order. It’s both ambitious and pragmatic, and appears informed by a thoughtful assessment of New York City’s Open Data Law and other open data initiatives.  At this early date, the big question is whether agencies feel inspired (or compelled) to fulfill the expansive spirit of the Order, or whether they will do as little as possible behind the cover of some broad definitions and exceptions.

In particular,  open government advocates will be keeping an eye on agency claims that publishing some data sets will impose “Undue financial, operational, or administrative burden on the state or agency.” The intent here is reasonable, but the when does the “burden” become “undue?” There is a cost to getting data ready for public consumption — and improving the quality of state data is a side benefit of this new Order. But when is that cost too much, who is deciding, and will the public be part of this discussion. Stay tuned.