Governing Government – total transparency.

City of ALBUQUERQUE
institutes new moves towards open government.

The Economist  Nov 19th 2011

RESIDENTS of Albuquerque, New Mexico, may, if they so desire, log on to their city's website to discover that their mayor, Richard Berry, charged $26.75 on his city-issued credit card for AT&T service in September, and that he has earned $91,871 so far this year. If this sounds fascinating, why stop there? Daniel Marzec, an intern, made $5,132. Indeed, as of last month, the name and salary of each of the more than 6,000 city employees is posted online. The city's vendor contracts, expense reports and various other things have already been there for about a year. Benefits packages are next, says Mr Berry.

He is very proud of this transparency, he based his 2009 campaign on clean government, in a city and state that “was not known for its transparency and accountability”, as he puts it. Now he would like to be seen as a leader of a national movement.

In a sense he is. Michael Barnhart, president of Sunshine Review, a wiki-driven organisation that grades state and local governments for their transparency, says that Albuquerque is “certainly among the best” cities in the country. Sunshine gives it an A+, putting it in the company of cities like San Diego and (surprisingly) Chicago.

Technology has certainly made putting arcane data online easier in recent years. But the real push for transparency has come from the scandals that often breed in opaque government. The most notorious example, uncovered last year, is Bell, a tiny blue-collar city near Los Angeles, whose leaders paid themselves exorbitant amounts and, in effect, used the city coffers as personal banks.

We “fear that there are dozens or hundreds of Bells around America,” says Mr Barnhart. Hence the need to let sunshine penetrate the dark bureaucracies spending taxpayers' money. Yes, most of the data are boring, he admits. But journalists and think-tanks should have them, to browse and crunch and snoop. Freedom of information laws already do allow the press and the public to demand specific information. But the process is too cumbersome to hold governments to account.

OPEN GOVERNMENT doesn't mean "the information's there if you want it and have the patience to login your entire personal data then wade through pages of random documents". This may satisfy the technical definition of 'open government', but to qualify as genuine 'open government' all data must be clearly classified, easy to find, and above all, truly user-friendly.

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