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Texas Passed Open Data Law, But Not an Automatic Win

July 6, 2011 1 comment

On June 17, Governor Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 701 into law, which requires each state agency to post high-value data sets online. This was a great victory for transparency and open government, putting into statute the requirement for all state agencies to post “raw data in open standard format that allows the public to search, extract, organize, and analyze the information.”

Even though this was an enormous win for Texas, this alone does not guarantee that open data will be sprouting across every agency come September 1. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order for this law to become a reality across the state.

Why this is no automatic win
Due to the economic climate of the state entire planet, this law requires that agencies use only “existing resources”, making data available “at no additional cost to the state.” In a time when IT programs are being asked to do more with less, there is already an abundance of competing initiatives clawing at the shrinking IT budget. It’s difficult to weigh the importance of publishing data versus other initiatives like infrastructure costs and application development, whose value is more tangible and straightforward.

So, if an agency feels like they need existing resources to focus on what they feel are more mission critical tasks, it won’t be hard to say “sorry, no resources available” as its get-out-of-jail card.

The bill did allow two alternatives for agencies without resources: find a vendor who is willing to do it pro bono or find a grant to fund your open gov initiative.

Overall, despite the challenges, SB701 is still a reason to celebrate, and there will be some agencies preparing data sets to publish by September 1. Texas now has the statutory foundation for transparency and open data, but it’s still up to the agencies to allocate the necessary resources to make this a reality. This is a great catalyst to create momentum, and it will be exciting to see how supporters respond in the coming months.

What do you think? What are some incentives that open gov proponents can use to encourage agencies and vendors to make this legislation actionable and attainable?