Testimony to the City Council Technology in Government Committee on Compliance with Local Law 11

CITIZENS UNION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
Testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Technology in Government on Compliance with Local Law 11 of 2003
February 27, 2009


Good afternoon, Chair Brewer, and other members of the Committee on Technology in Government. My name is Rachael Fauss, and I am the Policy and Research Associate of Citizens Union of the City of New York, an independent, nonpartisan civic organization of New Yorkers that promotes good government and advances political reform in our city and state. We thank you, Chair Brewer, for your leadership on using technology to increase government transparency and accountability, and for holding this hearing to monitor implementation of Local Law 11 of 2003 to ensure that city publications and documents are accessible to the public through the Department of Records and Information Services (Records) website.

Citizens Union supports increasing transparency in government, as expanding the publics access to information about government performance and decision-making is crucial to ensuring that citizens can hold it accountable. We believe that efforts to provide government documents online not only serve to increase transparency, but can also save government resources and time, because it would eliminate many of the formal and informal requests to agency personnel for basic information already provided in existing government reports and other documents.

While Local Law 11 of 2003 laudably sought to increase transparency by requiring all city agency publications and reports required to be published, issued, or transmitted to the Mayor and City Council to be posted on the Records website, Citizens Union believes that more can be done to ensure greater public access to city government information and reports. Specifically, we recommend reorganizing the publications into categories that are more intuitive, such as by the authoring agency or type of publication, i.e. reports versus newsletters, as well as providing cross-category sorting of documents, which would substantially improve the sites user-friendliness. The current categorization, for example, lists categories that often involve overlap such as Government Policy, Health or Public Safety.

We are also concerned about the timeliness of the postings. We urge the Council to ensure that Records is complying with the statutory deadline for posting of materials within ten days of release by the agency. Timely access to information is important to ensure that the public is able to weigh in on decisions that are being made by government while the window of consideration is still open. It seems that documents are organized on the site based on the order of creation rather than the original posting date, which makes it even more difficult to determine whether Records is complying with the posting deadlines. Citizens Union is also concerned that Records annual report from last year on their performance of their powers and duties, as well as their compliance with Local Law 11, is not posted on their website, and thus may not have been completed. Such a report on Records efforts to comply with the law would be an important first step in determining how best to proceed in ensuring compliance.

Citizens Union also believes that there are other government documents that should be required to be provided online by the City that are not currently covered by Local Law 11. For example, the City Record should be included on the Records site and available to the public for free. Much of the information in the printed, subscription version of the City Record which includes notices from New York City agencies about public hearings and meetings, court notices, property disposition, procurement opportunities, and proposed and final agency rule changes is not available for free access online. Only the procurement notices published in the City Record are currently available for free online. In comparison, the entire New York State Register, which is the state equivalent of the City Record, is available for free online. Accordingly, we urge the Council to undertake a review of city government documents and publications and act legislatively to strengthen the mandates of Local Law 11 to require more documents, such as the City Record, to be posted on the Records site.

Lastly, we would like to reiterate our support for the webcasting and archiving of public meetings, including their agendas and transcripts, as was discussed at your previous hearing on the webcasting of public meetings. Ideally, Records should be a one-stop-shop for all government documents and information, including reports, proposed rule changes, notices of public meetings, archival video of public meetings, and other important documents.

Thank you again for holding this hearing and allowing Citizens Union to present its views. I am available at this time to answer any questions that the Committee may have.