Lost and found in Atlanta: Georgia’s executive orders make their way back online

2014 Executive Orders from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's website
via Office of the Governor of Georgia 


Earlier this week, we highlighted a serious lack of transparency in the actions of Georgia’s executive branch. The unexplained disappearance of Governor Nathan Deal’s executive orders from the state website last Thanksgiving was a major step backward for transparency in Georgia’s government. Happily, the Governor’s administration finally agreed yesterday that it’s time to bring the executive orders back into public view.

Deal’s office told the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionon Thursday that the executive orders had been taken down last year for “administrative” reasons. Deal spokesperson Brian Robinson also told the AJC that the administration had plans to restore the orders, and his office indeed has now just begun restoring four year’s worth of orders to the governor’s website.

This is important news for Georgia, and important news for open government advocates across the U.S. As we’ve observed, it’s critical for a state’s citizens to be able to learn what policy their governor is creating through the powerful mechanism of the executive order. Until today, Georgia was the only state in the country that failed to put its governor’s executive orders online. Thanks to this week’s actions, Georgians who aren’t able to make it to the state house in Atlanta in order to request paper copies will finally have access to executive orders issued by their current governor.

Cheered by this excellent progress, we spent a few hours evaluating the quality and extent of the released documents. A quick comparison of the new executive order list against the archive at Georgia Government Publications and archived versions of the website courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine shows that they’ve covered a lot of ground over the past day, publishing most of the orders for 2014. Based on press releases from the governor’s office, however, there are still at least a few appointments from the end of July 2014 that haven’t gone up yet at either GGP or the Governor’s website. The orders from the latter half of 2013 are also up, and at the time of this writing, his office appears to be filling in a six-month and approximately three hundred-order gap in postings from January 2 to July 1, 2013.

The restoration of documents appears to have been somewhat sporadic so far. The orders from 2012 haven’t yet been restored, but curious readers can find them in their entirety at the Internet Archive. Orders from January to September of 2011 appear to have made their return, although records from the latter half of September to December 2011 are still missing.

While the published orders are still not machine-readable and are thus less thoroughly indexed by search engines, the restoration of these documents in human-readable form to the governor’s website is a very important return to old ways that lays the groundwork for future transparent governance in Georgia.