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Democrat and Chronicle


Make Public Disclosures Simpler

March 12, 2011

By Tim Hoefer

Filing a Freedom of Information Law request can be a needlessly lengthy and frustrating process for one taxpayer filing just one request. Multiply that by a thousand and you’ll get an idea of what it takes to run the Empire Center’s government transparency website, where taxpayers can find data on salaries and labor contracts, for example.

But, there’s a better way — proactive disclosure. In its most basic form, proactive disclosure means that data and records already deemed to be public information by FOIL should be posted on the Internet. Pretty simple. Of course, there’s more to it.

For example, the state and its local governments all use different accounting programs to keep track of how they are spending your tax dollars. This makes it very hard to compare and analyze spending on an apples-to-apples basis. Usually it feels more like you’re trying to compare apples to hamburgers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature could fix this problem by requiring the development of uniform standards for reporting and posting expenditure data and other public information. The cost of developing this system would be at least partially offset by the savings realized by governments that no longer have to respond to numerous individual FOIL requests. The marginal cost of proactive disclosure would undoubtedly be much lower than the current labor-intensive approach to FOIL compliance.

Under proactive disclosure, government entities would be required to format and load data into the proposed system. Depending on their technical savvy and capability, that could surely be an adjustment for those responsible.

Our governments’ purpose, however, is to serve the will of the people, to provide those services that its people desire. The people desire, as they are entitled, to have real access to this data, it’s the responsibility of the governments that represent them to provide it.

As New Yorkers, we’re fortunate to have some of the best open access laws in the country that provide taxpayers with a strong presumption of access. FOIL is a product of the ’70s though.

Today’s technology makes it feasible to cheaply and easily implement proactive disclosure and our lawmakers should feel compelled to do that.

Original Source:



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