Testimony to NYC City Council Oversight Hearing on 2017 Open Data Audits


Testimony of John​ ​Kaehny,​ ​Executive​ ​Director,​ ​Reinvent​ ​Albany Co-Chair,​ ​New​ ​York​ ​City​ ​Transparency​ ​Working​ ​Group

NYC​ ​Council​ ​Committee​ ​on​ ​Technology Hearing​ ​on​ ​Open​ ​Data​ ​Audit​ ​Per​ ​Local​ ​Law​ ​8​ ​of​ ​2016

January​ ​24,​ ​2017

Good​ ​Morning,​ ​Chairman​ ​Vacca​ ​and​ ​Members​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Technology​ ​Committee,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​John Kaehny,​ ​Executive​ ​Director​ ​of​ ​Reinvent​ ​Albany​ ​and​ ​Co-Chair​ ​of​ ​the​ ​NYC​ ​Transparency Working​ ​Group.​ ​Thank​ ​you​ ​for​ ​holding​ ​this​ ​oversight​ ​hearing​ ​​​and​ ​continuing​ ​to​ ​push the​ ​administration​ ​and​ ​its​ ​agencies​ ​to​ ​fulfill​ ​the​ ​promise​ ​and​ ​requirements​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Open Data​ ​Law​ ​from​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​to​ ​the​ ​very​ ​end​ ​of​ ​your​ ​chairmanship.

This​ ​hearing​ ​is​ ​specifically​ ​about​ ​the​ ​Mayor’s​ ​Office​ ​of​ ​Data​ ​Analytics,​ ​MODA,​ ​audit​ ​of the​ ​Department​ ​of​ ​Buildings,​ ​Department​ ​of​ ​Environment​ ​and​ ​Fire​ ​Department.​ ​The audit’s​ ​larger​ ​purpose​ ​is​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​pushing​ ​open​ ​data​ ​forward​ ​by​ ​learning​ ​what​ ​is​ ​working and​ ​not​ ​working​ ​at​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​City’s​ ​largest​ ​agencies.

Let​ ​me​ ​speak​ ​to​ ​that​ ​larger​ ​purpose​ ​for​ ​a​ ​moment.​ ​The​ ​City’s​ ​open​ ​data​ ​program​ ​had​ ​a rough​ ​time​ ​making​ ​the​ ​transition​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Bloomberg​ ​to​ ​de​ ​Blasio​ ​administration​ ​and​ ​it took​ ​groups​ ​like​ ​ours​ ​making​ ​a​ ​ruckus​ ​with​ ​City​ ​Hall​ ​to​ ​get​ ​things​ ​back​ ​on​ ​track.​ ​We​ ​are again​ ​concerned​ ​about​ ​staffing​ ​and​ ​resources​ ​for​ ​open​ ​data.

Seven​ ​months​ ​ago,​ ​Rafael​ ​Carvalho,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​two​ ​senior​ ​open​ ​data​ ​managers​ ​at​ ​DOITT, left​ ​for​ ​another​ ​agency.​ ​He​ ​has​ ​not​ ​been​ ​replaced,​ ​and​ ​as​ ​far​ ​as​ ​we​ ​can​ ​tell​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no hiring​ ​process​ ​underway.​ ​Our​ ​take​ ​is​ ​that​ ​DOITT’s​ ​inability​ ​or​ ​disinterest​ ​in​ ​replacing this​ ​key​ ​open​ ​data​ ​position​ ​has​ ​slowed​ ​and​ ​undermined​ ​the​ ​Citywide​ ​open​ ​data​ ​effort. The​ ​person​ ​in​ ​this​ ​open​ ​data​ ​manager​ ​position​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​two​ ​people​ ​at​ ​DOITT​ ​who​ ​have the​ ​seniority​ ​to​ ​effectively​ ​work​ ​with,​ ​cajole,​ ​and​ ​massage​ ​agencies​ ​into​ ​getting​ ​their data​ ​published​ ​in​ ​a​ ​useful​ ​form.​ ​We​ ​ask​ ​that​ ​Council​ ​ask​ ​DOITT​ ​to​ ​fill​ ​this​ ​important, funded,​ ​position​ ​as​ ​soon​ ​as​ ​possible​ ​—​ ​especially​ ​given​ ​the​ ​likelihood​ ​of​ ​citywide​ ​hiring freezes​ ​in​ ​the​ ​next​ ​budget.

The​ ​Audits
I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​number​ ​of​ ​​​general​ ​comments​ ​about​ ​the​ ​open​ ​data​ ​audits,​ ​but​ ​would​ ​note​ ​that we​ ​have​ ​had​ ​two​ ​business​ ​days​ ​to​ ​review​ ​the​ ​agency​ ​worksheets.

Broadly,​ ​we​ ​think​ ​the​ ​audits​ ​—​ ​if​ ​done​ ​in​ ​the​ ​spirit​ ​they​ ​were​ ​intended​ ​—​ ​can​ ​be extremely​ ​valuable​ ​tools​ ​for​ ​prodding​ ​specific​ ​agencies​ ​and​ ​for​ ​​​identifying​ ​systemic problems​ ​with​ ​open​ ​data​ ​implementation.

This​ ​said,​ ​MODA’s​ ​audit​ ​is​ ​not​ ​nearly​ ​as​ ​useful​ ​as​ ​it​ ​could​ ​be.​ ​​​The​ ​audit​ ​report​ ​needs​ ​to include​ ​a​ ​concise​ ​summary​ ​of​ ​how​ ​well​ ​each​ ​audited​ ​agency​ ​is​ ​doing,​ ​what​ ​works​ ​well, what​ ​needs​ ​improvement​ ​and​ ​how​ ​each​ ​agency​ ​is​ ​going​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​its​ ​open​ ​data​ ​mandates. Without​ ​this,​ ​the​ ​audit​ ​is​ ​missing​ ​the​ ​forest​ ​for​ ​the​ ​trees​ ​and​ ​it​ ​is​ ​hard​ ​for​ ​even​ ​the informed​ ​public​ ​to​ ​know​ ​how​ ​healthy​ ​the​ ​open​ ​data​ ​forest​ ​is​ ​at​ ​the​ ​audited​ ​agencies.​ ​Put another​ ​way,​ ​without​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​time​ ​and​ ​work,​ ​it’s​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​which​ ​agencies​ ​are​ ​top​ ​open data​ ​performers​ ​and​ ​which​ ​are​ ​laggards.

This​ ​said,​ ​we​ ​think​ ​that​ ​this​ ​year’s​ ​audit​ ​shows​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Department​ ​of​ ​Buildings​ ​is serious​ ​about​ ​open​ ​data​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Fire​ ​Department​ ​is​ ​not.​ ​We​ ​were​ ​impressed​ ​by​ ​DOB’s detailed​ ​responses​ ​in​ ​the​ ​various​ ​audit​ ​worksheets,​ ​the​ ​number​ ​of​ ​datasets​ ​published and​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​vast​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​datasets​ ​have​ ​standard​ ​geocoding​ ​and​ ​data​ ​dictionaries.

In​ ​contrast,​ ​the​ ​Fire​ ​Department​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​have​ ​few​ ​datasets,​ ​lacks​ ​geocoding​ ​and​ ​data dictionaries​ ​and​ ​included​ ​sparse​ ​details​ ​about​ ​plans​ ​for​ ​improvement​ ​for​ ​each​ ​dataset, doesnt​ ​use​ ​the​ ​same​ ​data​ ​internally​ ​as​ ​it​ ​publishes​ ​and​ ​did​ ​not​ ​bother​ ​filling​ ​out​ ​a​ ​key worksheet​ ​which​ ​details​ ​which​ ​legally​ ​mandated​ ​reports​ ​are​ ​based​ ​on​ ​public​ ​data.

Like​ ​BetaNYC,​ ​we​ ​would​ ​also​ ​note​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Fire​ ​Department​ ​rejected​ ​a​ ​Department​ ​of Health​ ​request​ ​to​ ​publish​ ​more​ ​information​ ​about​ ​EMS​ ​dispatch​ ​data​ ​based​ ​on​ ​what​ ​we believe​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​incorrect​ ​assertion​ ​of​ ​privacy.​ ​(​ ​EMS​ ​dispatch​ ​data​ ​is​ ​available​ ​as​ ​open data​ ​in​ ​other​ ​cities,​ ​notably​ ​Seattle.)​ ​If​ ​our​ ​assessment​ ​of​ ​FDNY​ ​is​ ​unfair,​ ​we​ ​would​ ​like to​ ​know​ ​why.

Specific​ ​Questions​ ​from​ ​Audit

  • What​ ​does​ ​MODA​ ​mean​ ​when​ ​it​ ​says​ ​that​ ​the​ ​term​ ​”dataset”​ ​is​ ​”loose.” (page​ ​4/17​ ​Examination​ ​Report.)
  • Related,​ ​which​ ​dataset​ ​does​ ​MODA​ ​believe​ ​agencies​ ​should​ ​be​ ​putting​ ​on the​ ​open​ ​data​ ​portal?​ ​Is​ ​this​ ​something​ ​that​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​be​ ​clarified​ ​in​ ​law?
  • Did​ ​the​ ​audits​ ​find​ ​any​ ​examples​ ​of​ ​their​ ​own​ ​or​ ​other​ ​agencies​ ​using​ ​their agency​ ​data​ ​more​ ​effectively​ ​thanks​ ​to​ ​open​ ​data?​ ​If​ ​not,​ ​are​ ​they​ ​asserting that​ ​their​ ​data​ ​was​ ​easily​ ​accessible​ ​within​ ​their​ ​own​ ​agency​ ​and​ ​from other​ ​agencies?
  • What​ ​did​ ​the​ ​audits​ ​tell​ ​MODA​ ​about​ ​how​ ​open​ ​data​ ​was​ ​making​ ​it​ ​easier for​ ​people​ ​within​ ​or​ ​at​ ​other​ ​agencies​ ​to​ ​access​ ​their​ ​data​ ​more​ ​easily?
  • Do​ ​these​ ​agencies​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​think​ ​that​ ​open​ ​data​ ​helps​ ​them​ ​fulfill​ ​their mission?
  • Do​ ​these​ ​agencies​ ​think​ ​open​ ​data​ ​has​ ​reduced​ ​their​ ​FOIL​ ​workload?
  • Has​ ​MODA​ ​considered​ ​interviewing​ ​agency​ ​stakeholder​ ​groups​ ​when doing​ ​the​ ​audit​ ​to​ ​find​ ​out​ ​what​ ​they​ ​think?


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