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Politics & Government

Pennsylvania Average in Providing Transparency

As part of national Sunshine Week the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for open government, released its Transparency Report Card, leaving Pennsylvania with a “C” grade.

States were ranked on six different criteria the foundation considered important to transparency: completeness, timeliness, ease of electronic access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards and permanence. Each state received or was deducted points based on their compliance with the criteria.

James Turk, Developer and Leader of the Open States Project, said Pennsylvania didn’t lose or gain points in five of the categories.

He said the commonwealth did the best in storing data for the longest period of time, with records going back to 1969.

“When you’re listing information online, this isn’t a library," Turk said. "We’re not running out of room for old records; hard drives are cheap. You should not be removing information that was once posted online from the Internet. A lot of states unfortunately do that. They’ll redesign the website and decide that nobody needs information prior to 2006.”

Turk said Pennsylvania should be working harder on creating “bulk access,” machine-readable data that easily allows third parties to search for legislation data.

States receiving an “A” grade include Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas, Washington and New York.

Sunlight Foundation spokeswoman Gabriela Schneider said they decided to create the report card after their Open States Project, a website that follows state legislation, had trouble accessing information from state government websites.

She said many states are behind the technology curve and it’s not enough for states to just have a website.

“Maybe 10 years ago they would have gotten straight "A's," but times have changed and there’s a demand for the underlying data,” Schneider said. “So it’s not that states should spend so much time on creating a website on the front end, but they should make the underlying nuts and bolts of what powers that site has available in this open way.” 

Sunshine Week coincides with James Madison’s birthday (March 16th), the man some consider the father of open government.