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One-Stop Online Online Source for All Data to Make Government in NJ more Transparent

Friday, February 10, 2017   (0 Comments)
Share | 02/10/17

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday signed into law a measure that will increase the transparency and accountability of state agencies by making it easier for the public to find and get data and other information kept by the state government — all at one central online location. Called the New Jersey Open Data Initiative, the law emulates models used elsewhere around the nation and in cities in the state — including NewarkJersey City and Hoboken — where so-called open data or open government portals serve as repositories for data sets, maps, meeting notices, reports, and other information. “This is a clearinghouse, where all data is going to be in one place,” said Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden), a sponsor of the new law. “It’s just common sense. Let me have just one place to find information, with one person managing one site.”

Everything to be available at one location

As such, it should become a place where anyone could find in one location average local property taxes, local School Performance Reports, local hospitals’ report card scores, crime statistics, and other information currently stored on individual agency websites. That should make it useful not only to reporters and researchers but also to the general public.

It should expand upon the state’s current open data sites — the Open Data Center and the state Transparency Center — which primarily have financial data, including on salaries for state employees, pension information for public retirees and revenue, expenditure and debt data, but also some mapping files and a licensed child care center search function.

It pushes state agencies ‘to be honest in their reporting…’

“This Legislation is a major step forward for our State, particularly as it relates to transparency,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic). “The regulatory oversight will push our State agencies to be honest in their reporting and data collection mechanisms. But most importantly, most of the data will be available to the public at no cost.”

The law requires that all the data be made available for free unless a fee is required by state law and without the need for users to have to log in by name or provide other information about themselves.

Ease of access could prove costly

Still, creating a one-stop shopping site for records that already are posted online should prove helpful even to researchers and those familiar with finding data, as it can now take multiple clicks to find certain data, if one even knows where to look. It could also make more accessible some databases that are now relatively difficult to navigate, as the new law requires that.

This ease of access could prove costly. The Office of Legislative Services said it could not provide an estimate, but said it will cost more to “create new websites, hire personnel to manage the sites and the flow of information thereon, provide training for such personnel, and acquire the necessary computer equipment and security the new system would require.”

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