It’s not huge or transformational, but the New York State Comptroller has joined the Governor in taking another step towards establishing a new open government convention for New York: machine-readable fiscal information.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli recently began publishing monthly cash reports in a Excel format. The cash reports show revenue and spending both to and from the State’s funds. This is the kind of bread and butter fiscal reporting of big tables of numbers that have previously been available only in a PDF format which cannot be used by spreadsheet software without laborious “scraping.” Lengthy tables of budget numbers displayed on a computer screen are not very useful. It’s only when the numbers are “machine readable” that expert members of the public can use them in a spreadsheet, where they can find potential errors, and see odd fiscal assumptions or alarming trends.
The comptroller’s step helps re-enforce the best practice introduced by Governor Cuomo in early 2013 with his Open Budget website. The Open Budget site includes a downloadable, machine readable spreadsheet for the dozens of tables in the enacted budget.
We applaud the Comptroller’s Office for taking this step, and look forward to seeing them publish all of the vast numbers of tables embedded in their various reports in a version that the public can actually use. An added benefit is that the downloadable spreadsheets will also be online where the Comptroller’s Office itself can easily access the data, and where other branches of government can also use them. Better still is to see that data get published on the state’s open data portal, where it is readily findable by an even larger audience.