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Portal plan: A chief data officer for the state

Voluminous data displayed on a computer monitor. (Photo: Dimitri Nikolaev)

California, the home of high technology, has a reputation for innovation and invention, but the state so far has lagged behind in organizing state data and making it easily accessible to the public.

A proposal before lawmakers in the final days of the legislative session would, for the first time, establish a chief data officer, or CDO, responsible for establishing and running a statewide open-data portal. It would allow the governor to fill the new position with an appointee.

No official or any government agency has the specific job of running the state’s data portal.

The bill, SB 573, by Sen. Richard Pan D-Sacramento, was in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it was held because of its fiscal impact, and its ultimate fate was uncertain. The measure was approved in the Senate in early June.

Through the California Public Records Act, state entities generally are required to make governmental records public, unless an agency has specifically received an exception.

Currently California has a website — data.ca.gov — that is similar to the open data portal as sought in SB 573, but no particular official or any governmental agency has the job of maintaining and updating the data portal.

“A CDO ensures accountability in one individual for the massive amounts of data the state has collected,” Pan said.

If approved, state office will be required to appoint their own respective data coordinators to organize data for the CDO.

Staffing costs for CDO and one support data liaison will cost the state around $293,000 dollars a year, according to a Senate analysis.  Once the data portal is created, ongoing costs for maintenance will run anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million annually.

Supporters include the Health Officers Association of California (HOAC), Urban Strategies Council, Milken Institute California Center, and the Sunlight Foundation.

“This bill emphasizes the state’s capacity to serve as a platform for open data across the state by ensuring that the state portal can host California’s open municipal, county, and district data as well,” said the Sunlight Foundation in the Senate floor analysis.

Supporters point to reduced bureaucratic costs as citizens no longer have to call individual agencies for data.  Instead, citizens can just refer to the open data portal website and find all the information in one centralized location.  Supporters also contend that the easier access to data will correlate to more economic development because entrepreneurs will have more data to analyze and invest.

California is not alone in pushing for CDO around the country, at least 10 other states already have mandated statewide open data portal, with Colorado as the first state to appoint a CDO in 2010.

San Francisco and Los Angeles both already hold their own open data portals on a municipal level, as do a number of other cities.

Currently, the bill has no written opposition.

Ed’s Note: Alvin Chen is a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly.


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