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“Big data” has become a catchphrase of our age, and Gov. Martin O’Malley is a professed believer in data-gathering and numbers-crunching as a tool in governing – hence, his much-heralded StateStat system. So it’s a little disappointing — if not surprising, given the usual bureaucratic resistance to change – that only modest steps have been taken to make this bonanza accessible to the taxpayers.
Another step was taken in the recent General Assembly session with the passage of legislation that will set up a 37-member Open Data Council to promote getting all government data and documents online in searchable, machine-readable formats. O’Malley has signed the proposal into law
In its recently released fifth annual report on government spending transparency, the Maryland PIRG Foundation gave the state a B-. That’s an improvement from the previous year’s C, but not good enough for a state that prides itself on running a modern, efficient government.
Having government spending data online provides additional opportunities for taxpayers to track where money is going. But having that information available in a user friendly and searchable format is essential too. The foundation report noted that Maryland online systems still don’t allow keyword searches of checkbook-level data.
Improvements to the state website are an essential first step to ultimately get the same level of spending information available online from all local governments across the state. Currently, different counties, towns and cities have vastly different offerings online, and the state needs to enter the 21st century and set some basic requirements for must be available.
Hopefully the new council can move Maryland faster toward real transparency by helping taxpayers more easily monitor what their government is doing, and how it is spending our tax dollars.
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