Governor Dannel Malloy signed an executive order yesterday to create a new online portal that aggregates and displays data from agencies across the state government. The move won him applause from transparency advocates, but triggered criticism from Republicans.
The Connecticut Open Data Portal, projected to open within a few months, will allow researchers, analysts and all members of the public to search data compiled from every state agency for the first time in state history. Much of the data that will be searchable in the portal is already available online, but is either scattered across a number of agency websites or buried in places on the state’s website that are difficult to find, said Tyler Kleykamp, who will manage the portal as the state’s chief data officer. The portal will also display some data, such as census information, that has not yet been made available to the public.
“The portal is for transparency,” Kleykamp said. “People who are looking into the effectiveness of programs and state policies will now have a greater ability to actively evaluate them.”
Kleykamp said he will work with agency heads to determine what data should remain confidential due to privacy and safety concerns.
Executive Order No. 39, which will create the new data portal, instructs all executive branch agency heads to immediately begin compiling data, which will include lists, tables, charts, graphs and non-narrative information that is statistical or fact-based, according to a press release from the governor’s office. The state has signed a contract with Socrata, Inc., a tech company that develops platforms for sharing government data, to design the portal.
Abe Scarr, director of ConnPIRG (Public Information Research Group) Education Fund, a non-profit that advocates for greater public information, said the initiative would help Connecticut rejoin the ranks of America’s most governmentally transparent states. Recently, Connecticut has fallen behind by failing to utilize the latest technology to aggregate and share data, he added.
“This can allow us to hold our elected officials and state agencies accountable for working on behalf of the public,” Scarr said. “It can build confidence in the state government because we know we can hold it accountable and demonstrate when it’s responding and doing its job well.”
Gary Rose, head of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, said the portal could also enhance opportunities for students and researchers to evaluate policies.
Republicans, however, expressed suspicion at the timing of the order. State Senator Len Fasano said he believes the governor created the portal by executive order, rather than pursuing a bill in the legislature, because he wants to claim credit for increasing government transparency in an election year.
“He keeps doing these political stunts,” Fasano said. “He wants to be the guy who says, ‘I’m the guy who has open and transparent government,’ when in fact there’s a lot of information that he stalls us on.”
Fasano cited Malloy administration officials’ use of private email accounts to conduct state business as an example of non-transparency. In November, the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information called on administrators to discontinue the practice, which can shield communication from public information requests.
David Bednarz, deputy press secretary for Gov. Malloy, said the governor has prioritized transparency since taking office.
“No one is saying that there isn’t more that could be done, and he would like to continue moving forward in this efforts,” Bednarz said in an email. “But today’s announcement is yet another step in the Governor’s overall initiative to make sure that state government is open and accessible to state residents.”
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Tom Foley, said the portal will not change the state’s “transparency problem.” Foley narrowly lost the 2010 gubernatorial election to Malloy and hopes to defeat him in November. Cooper said the real issue in Connecticut is not lack of data, but rather the manipulation of data for political purposes.
State agencies will have 90 days to identify data suitable for posting in the portal.