Sunshine Week Report: Watchdog Rates Gov. Hochul’s 70 Agency Transparency Plans


Opening New York 2022:
New Sunshine Week Report Rates 70 NYS Agency Transparency Plans

What NYS agencies told the Governor they are doing to improve FOIL,
Open Data, Open Meetings and other basic transparency measures.

A new report, Opening New York 2022, from watchdog group Reinvent Albany released for Sunshine Week provides an independent assessment of the 70 state agency transparency plans submitted to Governor Hochul last fall. The Governor ordered NYS executive agencies to produce transparency plans in September 2021.

Governor Hochul’s agency transparency plans are a fundamental first step for assessing what agencies need to do to comply with the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), Open Data Executive Order and other mandates. If done well, the plans will also show the Governor and Legislature what else needs to be done to increase public access to government information.

Reinvent Albany welcomes Governor Hochul’s agency transparency plans, which can evolve into a powerful tool to accelerate positive change and hold laggard agencies accountable. New York State has been wracked by a seemingly endless series of high-level scandals, and increasing agency transparency will restore public confidence in state government.

Reinvent Albany used 10 criteria to evaluate the plans, which included whether they addressed compliance with: FOIL, the Open Meetings Law, the Open Data Executive Order, Project Sunlight, records retention policies, and mandated reporting requirements. We also looked at whether the plans include website and social media usage, are machine-readable, and if agencies proposed future improvements and implementation timelines. A summary of our broad findings is below.

Every agency addressed their website and social media usage. Unfortunately, the least met criterion was inclusion of implementation timelines or deadlines (53% of agencies). Inclusion of timelines is a key step towards making agencies accountable for their pledges.

Some agencies released cursory plans, like the State Board of Elections (SBOE), which had a one page “plan” with no details or explanation. The NYS Canal Corporation plan and addendum included only four of ten criteria and omitted most of what the Governor asked for.

The Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) ironically posted a transparency plan that was not machine readable.

Other agencies released plans that were informative and helpful, like the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The MTA and DEC plans assessed current compliance with transparency laws and provided concrete details and timelines regarding changes they intended to make. 

Summary of Reinvent Albany Recommendations

  1. The Governor should mandate via Executive Order annual transparency plans, requiring agencies to assess their progress made on prior plans.
  2. Annual transparency plans should include a checklist showing how well agencies comply with transparency mandates like FOIL and Open Data.
  3. The Governor should publish the top three deliverables from each agency transparency plan, as pledged in her own transparency plan.
  4. The Governor should fulfill a key commitment in her own transparency plan and ensure the Division of the Budget publishes discretionary, or “MOU” lump sum and capital appropriations.

Click here to view the report as a PDF.