Aug 12 2014

New York City Is Releasing More Than 15 Years' Worth of Data

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed two new open-information laws that require the city to make more public records and regulations accessible online in a user-friendly format.

There’s no reason why citizens shouldn’t have timely, web-based access to public records on government procurement, updated city laws or open hearings and meetings, say open-records advocates and government transparency backers. The New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio agree.

Last week, de Blasio signed into law two bills that proponents are calling a win for civic hackers, New York City residents and the movement toward a more open and transparent government.

One of them, Introductory 363-A, amends the New York City Charter to require all information published in the City Record be made available online within 24 hours. The information must be available in “a non-proprietary, machine-readable format and a human-readable format and shall be capable of being downloaded in bulk,” according to the law.

Turning PDFs into Searchable Records

The data also must be searchable by the date of publication, relevant agency, keyword and category. This means online users should be able to easily find information by topic, such as public hearings, procurement notices and changes in personnel.

“Whether publishing more content on the Internet or making data more accessible and user-friendly, today we’re advancing our administration’s goal of becoming the most technology-friendly and innovation-driven city in the world — as well as harnessing the power of data collection and analysis to address challenges and improve this city,” de Blasio said in a statement after signing the laws.

The city is partnering with several organizations, including the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation and open-data solutions firm Ontodia, to “unlock and analyze municipal decision-making information stored in the City Record — going back more than 15 years,” the city announced. That will include more than 4,000 daily publications of the City Record, which includes data on government procurement, public hearings and meetings as well as hiring.

The law will go into effect in August 2015, but the Department of Citywide Administrative Services is expected to make the necessary changes before then to ensure its timely implementation.

“Hard copies and PDFs of the City Record are distributed daily, but putting the information online in a format that can be analyzed will help us understand the stories behind them,” Council Member Ben Kallos told StateTech.

When asked how the city would ensure that citizens have access to sufficient metadata to comprehend the data, Kallos said that “the City Record itself comes with plenty of explanatory information.”

“The Open Data portal enables data analysts and developers to build the next useful apps,” Kallos added. “Through public-private partnership, the laws themselves go back into the hands of the people, where they belong.”

Publishing City Laws

The other bill de Blasio signed, Introductory 149-A, amends the city’s administrative code to call for “a true and complete compilation of the [city’s] charter, the administrative code, and the rules of the city of New York.” The legislation, which also will go into effect in August 2015, requires the New York City Law Department to publish this information online and update the compilation of laws within 30 days of any change.

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