Colorado legislators move to formalize open-data program in Secretary of State’s office

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

Colorado lawmakers are taking steps to formalize a 2½-year-old pilot program that encourages state government agencies to “streamline access to public data” by making datasets available online in machine-readable formats.

HB 16-1014, which would put the Secretary of State’s Business Intelligence Center into statute, passed the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee last Thursday. The program includes the popular Go Code Colorado initiative, a statewide competition for creating business-related apps with public data.

“This bill promotes transparency in government, supports the open-data movement by making public data more available and supports the Colorado business community by providing them the useful tools to make more-informed decisions,” said Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, the House sponsor of HB 16-1014.

Rep. Angela Williams

Rep. Angela Williams

Several state agencies have voluntarily provided 154 datasets to the Business Intelligence Center, which makes the information available to the public on the Colorado Information Marketplace. An additional 32 datasets are expected to be added by the end of the current fiscal year.

Government agencies decide which data to publish online. Currently available datasets range from business entities and trademarks to crime statistics and municipal sales taxes rates. Most are downloadable as comma-delimited files and in other formats that allow for analysis using a spreadsheet program or database manager.

Making the information available in machine-readable formats is important, Secretary of State Wayne Williams told committee members.

“Traditionally, government has had information but they’ve published it online in a PDF format or something that is not searchable, not usable by people except to go there, find and look at that particular document,” Williams said. “Part of the thrust of this program has been to put it in machine-readable formats so if you’re searching for something you can find it, you can access it.”

Rep. Dan Pabon, who is the House sponsor of a bill (SB 16-037) to require the release of public databases in database formats, said he sees the Business Intelligence Center as “the democratization of data…and that’s a good thing.”

The Denver Democrat noted, however, that some state agencies have told him “it will cost millions of dollars in some cases” to provide data in machine-readable formats, as his bill would require. One goal of SB 16-037 is to allow the public to obtain public data in formats that can be imported into Microsoft Excel or other programs, rather than as PDFs.

Secretary of State Williams said the Business Intelligence Center’s cost to publish most datasets in machine-readable formats has not been high. “In fact, it simply means (government agencies) providing us with the file that it was created in, instead of the PDF it was converted to.”

“I can’t speak to the specific dataset that they said would cost that much, but in most cases, I don’t know many people that create a document in PDF format. It is mostly something that is translated to a PDF,” Williams said. “And so if we start from the beginning with the premise that something is open data and that people should be able to access it, I would be surprised if that is indeed the total (cost).”

HB 16-1014 was sent to the House Appropriations Committee on a 13-0 vote. The bill would increase General Fund costs in the state Office of Information Technology by $60,000 in FY 2016-17. The Secretary of State’s office was appropriated $775,000 from cash funds for the Business Intelligence Center program in FY 2015-16. It also receives donations for Go Code Colorado.

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.

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