Pennsylvania Ranks 4th in Public Access to Info

Earlier this week, the Center for Public Integrity published the results of its 2015 State Integrity Investigation. Each state was ranked in a variety of categories ranging from Political Financing and Electoral Oversight to Procurement and Internal Auditing.

As Executive Director of the Office of Open Records, the category that most interested me was Public Access to Information.

And for Public Access to Information, Pennsylvania ranked 4th in the country.

That’s good news, and I’m proud of that ranking. When you examine the study in detail, it’s evident there are areas which can be improved — but the fact that Pennsylvania is ranked 4th for Public Access to Information is worth celebrating.

With a total of 68 points, Pennsylvania was only ranked behind Iowa (73), Utah (70), and Hawaii (70). (By letter grade, Iowa, Utah, and Hawaii were each given a C- for Public Access to Information; Pennsylvania was given a D+.)

Under the general category of Public Access for Information, states were evaluated on 13 issues. Here’s how Pennsylvania was scored:

  • In law, citizens have a right of access to government information through a defined mechanism. YES
  • In law, citizens have a right of access to private sector information through a defined mechanism. YES
  • In law, there is an entity/ies to monitor the application of access to information laws. MODERATE
  • In law, citizens have a right of appeal if access to government information is denied. YES
  • In law, there is an open data law, requiring the government to publish data online in an open format. NO
  • In practice, branches of government, state agencies and government officials do not claim to be exempt from access to information laws. 100
  • In practice, private sector information related to government information is not claimed to be exempt from access to information laws. 100
  • In practice, the calendars of both the governor and legislators are available to the public. 50
  • In practice, citizens receive responses to access to information requests within a reasonable time period and at no cost. 50
  • In practice, access to information requests are fully answered and/or detailed reasons for denying information are provided. 100
  • In practice, citizens can resolve appeals to access to information requests within a reasonable time period and at no cost. 100
  • In practice, the entity/ies to monitor the application of access to information laws independently initiates investigations and imposes penalties on offenders. 25
  • In practice, government responses to FOI requests are made available in open data format. 0

As you can see, of the 13 issues analyzed, Pennsylvania scored “yes” or “100” on a majority — seven — of them. That’s great, but of course it also means there’s some room for improvement in the other six.

The only two categories where Pennsylvania scored “no” or “0” were both related to open data. OpenDataPhilly is doing good work in this area, as is the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center. At the state level, both Hawaii and Utah got good marks for their open data efforts.

The Center for Public Integrity’s page for Pennsylvania goes into a good level of detail explaining each of the grades. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, it’s well worth spending some time reading through their work.

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