The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we're reviewing each state's efforts in this direction.
This week: Kentucky
While Kentucky has one of the country's most highly rated open government websites, OpenDoor.Ky.Gov, there is still much the state could do to provide more information in friendlier formats to reporters and the public.
The site, launched by Governor Steve Beshear in January 2009, was rated best in the country by USPIRG in its April survey of state government spending sites. It features a searchable database of expenditures, contracts and salaries. Users can see, for example, that the Department of Corrections spent $1.9 million on overtime payments in 2009 (as compared to nearly $130 million on salaries), or that the Highways Department spent $105 million on highway repairs. Users can also look up an individual vendor to find out how much it received.
The site's biggest strength is its timeliness. Expenditure and contract information is updated on a daily basis. According to Greg Haskamp, a member of the state's e-Transparency Task Force, the online information is as timely and accurate as the state accounting system itself. Salary information is updated automatically twice a month, as it's updated in the personnel files.
For reporters wanting to analyze the data, however, OpenDoor.ky.gov has significant limitations. The data is currently not downloadable, and columns aren't sortable. So if a vendor has received 15 pages worth of contracts, its very difficult, for example, to determine what the highest individual payment was, or to extract contracts for a particular date range.
Haskamp says public requests drive the site's offerings, so if Kentuckians complain about these missing functions, there's a better shot they'll be included. In the meantime, it would be nice to see the state expand from housing just spending data on OpenDoor to including other types of records in that central location. Currently much of the data that would be interesting to reporters is scattered across various sites; for example, decisions by the state's Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission are posted on that agency's site (in unsearchable, unsortable PDF format). The Kentucky Labor Cabinet has statistics about worker injury claims, but again, they're not machine readable, and they're located on the Labor Cabinet's site.
Recovery Act information is available online, too, at KentuckyAtWork.ky.gov. That site hosts a searchable feature, similar to OpenDoor's, that shows how much federal money went to contractors in the state. It's the same information that's up on recovery.gov, and it's available on a quarterly basis. Like OpenDoor, KentuckyAtWork is getting kudos from advocates for improvement — the nonprofit Good Jobs First rated the site 47th among states in July 2009, and now awards it second place. Let's hope both sites become more geek-friendly and allow data downloads in the future.