Magazine article Information Management

Survey Gives States Mixed Review on Transparency

Magazine article Information Management

Survey Gives States Mixed Review on Transparency

Article excerpt

States are posting more government records online, but they are leaving some of the most important information offline, according to a recent study.

The Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information online found that, in some cases, governments are charging taxpayers for access to records they already paid for, such as death certificates.

The survey, developed by Sunshine Week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Freedom of Information Committee, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, and the Society of Professional Journalists' FOI Committee, found that, while states seem to realize the importance of posting government information online, there is a lot of discrepancy when it comes to how much information some states post versus others.

Among the major findings:

* The information least likely to be found online were death certificates, found on the websites of only five states, and gas pump overcharge records, available online in eight. Also infrequently posted online were schools' building inspections and/or safety ratings, which are posted by only nine states. Only 13 states posted school bus inspection reports online.

* Information most frequently found online were statewide school test scores and DOT projects/contracts, online in 50 and 48 states, respectively. Close behind was campaign data, reported in 47 of the 50 states; disciplinary actions against medical physicians, 47 states; and financial audits, 44 states.

* Death certificates are a revenue source for many states, as they charge relatives and legitimately interested parties for copies of the records, or farm out the work to a third-party service such as VitalChek. Some states provide online access to older death certificates, mostly before 1960, although there generally is a fee for hard copies.

* The only state found to provide information online in all the categories surveyed was Texas. …

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