We Support Open FOIL


Co-Sponsors of Intro 328-2014

NYC Council Members Ben Kallos, James Vacca, Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera , Costa G. Constantinides, Elizabeth S. Crowley, Vincent J. Gentile, Peter A. Koo, Rory I. Lancman, Rosie Mendez, Daniel Dromm , Carlos Menchaca, Helen K. Rosenthal, Corey D. Johnson, Brad S. Lander, Jumaane D. Williams, Margaret S. Chin, Stephen T. Levin, Deborah L. Rose, Mark Levine, Ydanis A. Rodriguez, Antonio Reynoso, Ruben Wills, and Annabel Palma, (by request of the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer)

Monday, June 9th Joint Gov Ops and Tech Committee Hearing on Open FOIL

Monday’s hearing on Intro 328-2014, “Open FOIL,” brought many of the bill’s supporters to the City Council’s committee room floor. Testimony in favor of the bill was given by:

Testimony was also given by Counsel of the Mayor, Maya Wiley.

This joint hearing was also on creating a searchable city record website and a publishing the city laws online in a fully searchable database. The full hearing can be viewed on video.

Below is the full testimony given by MBP Gale Brewer:

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The Case for OpenFOIL

The proposed legislation for an online freedom of information law (“FOIL”) request tracking portal would greatly benefit New Yorkers. This portal would centralize the process of requesting records from City agencies for the public, and vastly streamline every step of the process of responding to FOIL requests for records access officers. It would catalyze the City open data initiative by allowing for analytics-based publication of open data sets. It would simply improve public access to information, and do so while saving taxpayers over $13 million per year.

What the FOIL Portal Does

The portal offers numerous benefits to the public and agencies:

  • All requests and responses are archived and publicly searchable. Members of the public will see if their question has already been asked and answered. Records access officers will avoid repeat requests for the same information.
  • Records officers will upload responsive documents to the portal and “attach” them to the applicable request, where records access officers will review them.
  • Redacting records will also be done within the portal itself, without the need to print, manually redact, and re-scan thousands of sheets of paper.
  • FOIL responses will no longer be mailed on CDs if they’re too large to email. Records officers will upload responses to the portal for public download.

Reason for Support

New York City will save at least $13 million annually by implementing an open and automated FOIL process through the OpenFOIL portal. This savings will come from improved efficiency in the FOIL response process at City agencies. There are roughly 50,000 FOIL requests filed in the City, and at an average cost of $400 per request, the FOIL regime costs $20 million annually. Automated FOIL processing technology like that included in the Open FOIL portal has reduced the cost of FOIL responses by between 66% and 90% elsewhere, which represents savings of at least $13 million.

Groups in Support

  • 596 Acres
  • Advocates for Children
  • ALIGN
  • Alliance for Quality Education of NY
  • BetaNYC
  • Brennan Center for Justice/ NYU LAW
  • Citizen Action
  • Citizens Union
  • Common Cause
  • Community Service Society
  • Community Voices Heard
  • Good Jobs New York
  • League of Women Voters NYC
  • Legal Aid Society
  • NRDC
  • NYC Environmental Justice Alliance
  • NY Civic Engagement Table
  • NY Lawyers for the Public Interest
  • NYPIRG
  • Make the Road by Walking
  • OpenPlans
  • Participatory Politics Foundation
  • Pratt Center for Community Development
  • Reinvent Albany
  • Riverkeeper
  • Sunlight Foundation
  • VOCAL – NY
  • Transportation Alternatives
  • Tri-State Transportation Campaign
  • West Harlem Environmental Action
  • Women’s City Club of New York

Resources

Manhattan BP Brewer and CMs Kallos and Vacca Introduce Open FOIL Legislation

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and Council Members Ben Kallos and James Vacca are introducing an Open FOIL bill today to create a centralized, searchable database of Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests sent to City agencies.

The online database would allow members of the public to both file FOIL requests and search previous ones. Information would include the date each request was filed and documentation of its progress. The site would be developed by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and the Office of Operations.

A 2013 report by then-Public Advocate, now-Mayor Bill de Blasio, identified that 10% of New York City FOIL requests are ignored, 40% of City agencies do not include FOIL information on their websites, and response time varies dramatically between agencies.

“I have long been committed to open access to government data, and nowhere is this more important than a Freedom of Information Request – which is one of the most common ways average citizens request government information,” Brewer said. “New York City must keep pace with other progressive cities around the world, which is why I am introducing this legislation.” Brewer’s record on municipal transparency includes passing laws requiring Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to be posted online, monthly 311 data reporting, all Executive Orders and Memoranda of Understanding to be posted online, all City agency hearings be webcast, and New York City’s Open Data Law, which is the most progressive open data legislation ever adopted by a municipality.

“Justice Brandeis had it right: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. This Open FOIL law will create new levels of transparency and accountability in government,” said Kallos. “It is ironic that our best tool for transparency, FOIL, has remained so hidden. Mayor de Blasio’s ‘Breaking Through Bureaucracy’ report, issued when he was Public Advocate, demonstrates the extent of the problem and proposes greater transparency as part of the solution. All New Yorkers should have access to information requests and FOILed information.” At the beginning of his career in public service, Ben Kallos used the FOIL process to put Albany voting records and conflict of interest information online so New Yorkers could hold politicians accountable. Council Member Kallos serves as Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, where he has fought to bring reform and transparency to government agencies.

“OpenFOIL is a transparency homerun for New Yorkers. It will transform the creaky, opaque, unreliable, paper-based FOIL process into an all online, central system, that is fairer, faster, and more accountable,” said John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany. “It’s a great irony that FOIL, the City’s most important transparency tool, is itself a black box. Nobody knows how many FOIL requests agencies got in 2013, if they responded, or what they were asked. With OpenFOIL we’ll finally know, and based on the federal experience with automating FOIL, taxpayers will save $10 million a year.”

“This is win-win legislation,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It will save City agencies millions by reducing the cost of complying with Freedom of Information requests. At the same time, OpenFOIL will make it a lot less frustrating for the public to get answers to their requests.”

“OpenFOIL is the next step in transparency for New York City, building on important successes around open data,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “By moving freedom of information requests online in a trackable database, New Yorkers will have a more efficient and accountable system of receiving important government information. Further, agencies themselves will now have the tools to better understand what the public wants, and to respond proactively in releasing needed information.”

“The proposed legislation for an online freedom of information law (‘FOIL’) request tracking portal would greatly benefit New Yorkers,” said Cathy Gray, Vice President of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York. “This portal would centralize the process of requesting records from City agencies for the public, and vastly streamline every step of the process of responding to FOIL requests for records access officers. It would catalyze the City open data initiative by allowing for analytics-based publication of open data sets. It would simply improve public access to information, and do so while saving taxpayers $10 million per year.”

“The proposed OpenFOIL bill will ensure a 21st century freedom of information law that provides egalitarian information access for the people and transparency. This OpenFOIL bill will ensure a government for the people and for the 21st century,” said Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC.

Mayor Bloomberg Signs Webcasting Bill into Law

Photo: Luis Godoy

Photo: Luis Godoy

On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg, accompanied by City Councilmember Gale Brewer and members of the NYC Transparency Working Group, signed a bill requiring that all public meetings be live-streamed and archived on City websites. The Transparency Working Group congratulates City Council for sticking with this bill, originally introduced in April 2010, and giving New Yorkers a window into the public deliberations of their government.

The new bill, Intro 0132-2010, reads:

Each city agency, committee, commission and task force and the council shall record or cause to be recorded in digital video format its meetings and hearings, or portions thereof, that are required to be public pursuant to article seven of the public officers law, provided that this section shall not apply to community boards or local school boards. Such recordings shall be webcast live, where practicable, and shall be archived and made available to the public on the city’s website or on the website of such agency, committee, commission, task force, or council, not more than seventy-two hours after adjournment of the meeting or hearing recorded.

 

NYC Open Data Hearing: Nov. 20

The New York City Council’s Committee on Technology is holding an oversight hearing on DOITT’s administration of the New York City Open Data Law this Wednesday, November 20th at 1pm. The hearing will be at 250 Broadway, on the 16th floor.

Members of the NYC Transparency Working Group will attend to share their views on this critical piece of the New York City open data initiative.

Report: NYC Open Data Law Progress and Challenges

The NYC Transparency Working Group strongly supports the NYC Open Data Law and believes it has, overall, been a big success. The broad intent of the law is being realized, and it is achieving its goal of pushing City Hall and agencies to make much more data available. Our groups very strongly believe that the DOITT and City Hall staff time needed to implement the Open Data Law should continue to be fully funded.

Prior to the Open Data Law, there was no mandate for city agencies to proactively share their data with the public. The creation of that data sharing mandate has led to the release of hundreds of new data sets, including the PLUTO and ACRIS data sets which have long been sought by planners and academic researchers working on affordable housing and transportation issues.

Additionally, our groups appreciate the power of the API (Application Programming Interface) features on the city’s data portal, which essentially streams data to public users, and powers countless mobile apps. The potential of this feature to link data to users in other agencies, levels of government, and the public is barely being realized. However, it is being recognized. The Open Data Law is widely considered a global best practice, and has drawn government officials from Tokyo, Berlin and the United Kingdom to visit, and speak with the New Yorkers who helped create it.

Read the full report: NYC Open Data Law Progress and Challenges.

White House Upgrades Open Data Policy

On Thursday, President Obama issued an executive order building off his earlier orders and OMB memos like the Open Government Directive, the Managing Government Records Directive, and projects like the Open Government Platform. It’s called “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information“, and it continues to push federal agencies toward meaningful open data. The OMB has placed a number of major requirements on federal agencies:

  1. Create datasets from collected information with the expectation that data will be used by other sources; keep information machine-readable.
  2. All agencies must internally catalog and index their datasets in both human- and machine-readable formats.
  3. Agencies must publish the portions of the indexes containing datasets which could be made public. (e.g. which do not contain Federal secrets or social security numbers or the like.)
  4. Agencies must create a forum for public dialogue, where members of the public to request certain datasets be prioritized over others.

These are all promising steps, and the White House has created a Github repository with best practices and policies for agencies to learn from and share their experiences, as well as case studies, tools, and various written resources for officials and open government advocates alike.

NYC Reforms, Opens Subcontractor Reporting System

Today, New York City became the first municipality in the country to create a public database of subcontractors. In addition to recording payments to prime contractors, now subcontractors are recorded and tracked, and all this information is public. NYC Comptroller Liu’s office issued this press release, quoting TWG Co-Chairs Gene Russianoff and John Kaehny:

“New Yorkers will be getting a much more complete picture of how contractors and subcontractors are spending their tax dollars, thanks to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller John Liu,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

 

“Congratulations to Mayor Bloomberg and Comptroller Liu,” said John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany and Co-Chair of the NYC Transparency Working Group. “Digitizing and reporting subcontractor payments is a huge leap forward in accountability and transparency. Though somewhat dry and esoteric, this new reporting system has big implications for reducing corruption and improving efficiency, and when fully in place, will make New York City one of the most fiscally transparent cities in the world. When the subcontractor data is put into the Checkbook NYC platform, it will become instantly available for the rest of government and the public to use.”

Governor Launches Open Budget NY

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the launch of OpenBudget.ny.gov, a new website that provides unprecedented access and transparency to New York’s budget. Open Budget’s easy-to-use tools, charts, and information are available to the public today in coordination with the Governor’s Executive Budget address.

Open Budget is a first step in Open New York, an initiative outlined in the Governor’s 2013 State of the State address, which will use technology to promote transparency, improve government performance, and enhance citizen engagement.

“Open Budget is bringing the people back into government by taking budget data out of government file cabinets and making it available to the public for the first time in an easy-to-access, downloadable form. This will facilitate research, analysis, and innovation,” Governor Cuomo said. “As a first step in my Open New York initiative, Open Budget provides a powerful tool for transparency and accountability, fostering citizen engagement and enhancing the public’s trust in government.”